Saturday, February 25, 2017

Students tackle LEGO Robotics Obstacle Course to Learn STEM

This group handled the obstacle course like a boss. To get full credit they had to use the color sensor in color mode and reflective mode, they had to use the gyro sensor to turn, they had to stop on the third green line at the end and they had to knock off the block with a medium motor appendage of their own design.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Turn Your Classroom Into a Hotbed of Creativity and Innovation

This article originally appeared in eSchool News 

How to turn your classroom into a hotbed of creativity and innovation

Classrooms do not promote nearly enough creativity and innovation. Here’s how they can start

PLCs-communitiesEd. note: Innovation In Action is a monthly column from the International Society of Technology in Education focused on exemplary practices in education.
Establishing a classroom that guides and supports students in developing their abilities to innovate and create is not often covered in teacher education or in-service professional development.
Nor does learning about creativity or the skills that are drawn on in the creative act figure strongly in commonly implemented curricula or standards.

On the other hand, our society looks to innovation and creativity as essential avenues that will contribute to its future prosperity and well being. Our policy makers, including those who shape school and education, allude to them often, and the public agrees strongly.

True, vestiges of arts education remain in some schools. But while the arts are closely associated with the notion of student creativity, they cover many other things and hardly fill this gap. Further, it’s essential that student creativity and innovation be integrated across the curriculum. We need creative and innovative souls in the STEM, communications, and business areas, as well as in the arts.

Clearly there’s a crucial disconnect. But there’s good news. Being creative and innovative is a natural part of being human. And while schools commonly ignore it in favor of developing other aspects of thinking and learning, avoiding the looming creativity crisis is eminently do-able. Importantly, our society’s shift toward a technology dominant workplace and intellectual environment also offers answers to satisfying this unmet need.

Fostering creativity and innovation

Moving into a style of teaching that fosters creativity and innovation need not seem like an overwhelmingly out of reach destination for teachers who haven’t begun that journey. It can and should integrate nicely with the rest of what’s taught and learned in school. After all, the figures we want to hold up to our students as examples and models of creative thinking and behavior are participants in the world, not outsiders.

Next page: The basics of shifting classroom culture

What needs to be established is a shift in classroom culture, in attitudes and understandings, in habits of mind and work. Teachers can begin by establishing classroom values and rituals that support this variety of thinking and learning — by adopting and intelligently using some appropriate, supportive resources — and by engaging students in some simple activities that align well with the rest of what they do.

Creative classroom basics

Some understandings and easy actions for transforming classrooms into creativity and innovation hot houses include:
  • Our schools train students to see the goal of intellectual focus as arriving at a single, correct answer. And yes, in our daily lives that can be what’s called for. It is the promotion of this orientation, though, as the exclusive variety of desired solution that is the cause of serious learning imbalance.
  • In planning educational activities, the inclusion of student responses that are open-ended, that result in the production of multiple possible responses, responses that differ among students reflecting their imagination, taste, and fancy, is crucial. Digital resources, such as word processing, that facilitate saving numerous versions and that allow for their creators to quickly plug them in as solutions in a variety of contexts, producing different variations, greatly enable this.
  • Similarly, an attitude of acceptance of a variety of responses, one’s own and those of peers, should be inculcated. Digital content, including student work, allows for this as it is easily captured, combined, and shared in forms dictated by teaching and learning.
  • Public sharing of work is important. But with a difference from the traditional use of classroom bulletin boards. Rather than exclusively reflecting teacher’s decision about what’s best and why, in the creative classroom all students present their work to the community through a digital platform. This could be a classroom drive or blog, or a virtual space that can be tweaked to allow for public display of work, peer comments, and multiple drafts as students absorb feedback and revise their work in a continuum of versions — a hallmark of creative process. The social character of group work resources (wikis, blogs, Edmodo, Google docs) supports the establishment of community, an essential element of initiating young people into the collaborative nature and advantages of the ways they’ll likely be creative during the course of their professional lives.
  • Creativity in our current world involves not only that mysterious conjuring up of something (significant) from nothing, but involves the responsible, selective curation and re-combination of bits and pieces of the work of those who’ve gone before. In that respect, resources like Google Image Search, Screen Capture, and the types of “Digital Canvas” represented by PIXIE, Buncee, and even Microsoft Word (if used insightfully as a platform for combining a variety of elements creatively) help re-establish the classroom as a place where imagination comes to life, naturally.

Creative challenges

Moving our students into the realm of creativity often involves engaging them in challenges that require them to analyze and research issues, collect materials and ideas with which to respond, and then create a solution that communicates their new ideas.

A challenge might stem from a prompt such as “Select an item commonly discarded as garbage (e.g. small plastic beverage bottle) and come up with a new use for it that will benefit people.” Students would first research the item, as well as ways people currently recycle it, then present their solution in a poster using graphics, text, and links to web-based media and share it on the class blog. They might also be responsible for reviewing their classmates’ work, choosing at least one to offer feedback for.
Today’s students rely on a variety of search resources and their own sophistication in using them. Thinking tools like graphic organizers and outlining and prioritizing resources help them analyze information. Writing and illustration resources help refine their visions as drafts, trial conceptions, and mock-ups. And communications media lets them share their creative work with an actual audience, eliciting and carrying feedback.

This, by the way, is not just school stuff; it’s today’s real world of creativity. Understanding and becoming adept in it can and should begin in our classrooms.
Our students are not only naturally creative, they are growing up surrounded by digital resources designed to enhance and channel this aspect of thinking and working. Today’s classrooms that reflect this will be the ones that are most effective in developing the creators and innovators of tomorrow.

About the Author:

Mark Gura is the author of the forthcoming ISTE book, "Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School" (May 2016). The former director of instructional technology of the New York City Department of Education, Gura began his career as a visual art teacher, giving him an unusual perspective from which to understand the important role digital resources must play in fostering student creativity and innovation, a crucial next step in education. In addition to heading up ISTE’s Literacy Professional Learning Network, he teaches online graduate courses for Touro College and New York Institute of Technology.

Read the full article at its source: 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Enthusiastic Review for Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School

From Getting Smart (blog)
"Smart Review | Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School"

Do you consider yourself a creative person?
When I ask students this question, particularly adult learners, nearly everyone answers very decisively.

The existing paradigm–which is slowly being eroded by research–is that you either are creative, or you are not.

I remember this from my own childhood very well. My next door neighbor’s mom was super “creative,” in that she was what I now call “crafty.” My own mom would always shake her head and say that she just wasn’t that “type of person.” Disheartened, I remember thinking that I felt creative, but what if it was somehow genetic? Would I turn into an uninspired adult one day? As you can imagine, this scenario plays out all the time in classrooms across the country, as teachers face students who have predetermined if they are creative or not, based largely on the cues the adults around them provide.

Can Creativity and Critical Thinking Co-Exist?

Through the years in my Project Based Learning classroom, I’ve struggled to convince students that they could be creative, especially in a testing obsessed school culture. I’ve sometimes doubted my proclivity towards creative endeavors as opposed to more nuts and bolts academic curriculum, but I always come around to the same conclusion, aptly explained by Mark Gura, the author of Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School: “Effective learning challenges, by the way, are very often those intended to push the envelope of student understanding and ability.”

Creative work is intellectually stimulating, and with appropriate direction can result in the highest order of critical thinking.

The trick, of course, is to allow your own creativity into the room, providing a model for students who, like my younger self, might not see creative expression at home.

Published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the book’s 210 pages are conversational and inviting, much like talking with a favorite former professor. This tone is quite fitting given that Gura’s career in education has spanned three decades and includes classroom teaching, administration and currently includes online higher education graduate classes. If you are looking for a mentor then this book will speak to you as it did to me. I felt, more than anything, validated that my “hunch” that creativity is a 21st Century Skill. Additionally, I realized pretty quickly that the work I do in what I consider a creative classroom is actually just the tip of a very big iceberg.

Real Teachers, Real Reflection

This book reflects the vast experiences of its author, allowing the reader a wide lens perspective on a topic that is very difficult to truly see and understand. What separates this book from others I’ve read is that it is structured in a way that allows the reader an almost cinematic view of the topic. Gura systematically provides a wide view lens concerning the biggies like “What is Creativity… And Can It Be Taught?” and “From Creativity to Innovation and Problem Solving,” and then zooms in to capture the details teachers want to know. He does this very effectively through interviews with real, in the field practicing teachers who are
able to pinpoint the concerns that impact creativity in the classroom.

Perhaps my favorite of the interviews is with Tim Needles, a visual arts teacher and blogger. One of the difficulties of students being “creative” is how to also teach students content through the process. He explains, “If you challenge students to be creative directly, they may freeze up. But ironically, I find that some of the best students in the class are the most intimidated at the idea of being required to be creative.” This is not the only place in the book where Gura captures the pedagogical and practical considerations; additionally, he provides specific, ready to use examples and strategies which push students to be creative, but the methodologies he shares are academically sound and take the pressure off the child.

Another aspect of the book that is really enjoyable is also a reflection of Gura’s vast experience; he moves between stories about Archimedes “eureka” moments to the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow website, to referencing a YouTube video of Adele talking about creativity. As a mom and creative person, I look forward to chasing down Gura’s references and digging even deeper into this topic. As a teacher, this is a book that I will revisit over the summer with my curriculum in hand. I’m confident that incorporating some of the ideas will lead to an enhanced culture of creativity, and as I begin Project-Based Learning, I’ll alter my approach to introducing the topic of creativity

Anyone Can Be Creative

If you answered decisively when you answered the question “Are you creative?” then this book is for you, no matter how you answered. You’ll learn that the answer to that question isn’t dependent on genetics or some special calling, but instead an exciting possibility for anyone, even if you answered no–or rather, especially if you answered no."

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Developing Student Creativty: Make ‘mistakes’ part of the creative process

FROM:ISTE Connects 2/10/2017 

Make ‘mistakes’ part of the creative process

The phrase “everyone makes mistakes” has a unique meaning for retired educator and ISTE author Mark Gura. Rather than just a cliche, he see it as an entry point for bringing creativity, and a new way of thinking, to literacy lessons.

“Mistakes are a valuable tool, rather than something to be avoided," Gura says. "They should be celebrated and folded into the learning process.”

In the bigger picture, this different way of thinking about mistakes will also help teachers bolster a culture of creativity in classrooms.
One way to do that is to turn a string of assignments into one cohesive project, with a beginning and an end. That appeals to students more than “an endless parade of activities,” Gura says.

Here’s what a poetry project might look like:
Gathering feedback. As students write their poems, have them seek advice from classmates. “In a classroom with a strong culture of accepting mistakes, we can share our work with others and rely on them to provide feedback,” Gura says.

Reflecting. Ask students to journal about their poem and write a formal assessment where they identify areas of improvement. For instance, they might explain that they are not happy with the overall direction or a certain portion of the poem.

Rewriting. After journaling and reflecting, students can return to their poem and rewrite it based on feedback from classmates and their reflections in their journals.

Gura suggests students create several versions of the poem, saving all versions so that “the creative options are visible, able to spark further ideas and able to be manipulated.”

Presenting. Students present their finished poems to an audience. “The wonderful thing is that this can be an ongoing circle of readers, writers, creators and collaborators,” Gura says. “Creativity is a process-oriented phenomenon. We’re not just dropping seeds and sprinkling them. We can scaffold this for students, showing them a process-oriented approach.”...

Read the full article at its source:

Make, Learn, Succeed Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School

Make, Learn, Succeed Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School
Develop Student Creativity - Topics: Curriculum, Robotics, STEM, Project-based learning, Personalized learning, Maker movement (click on cover image for more information)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Maker Resources Rule! Materials for Maker-based Learning

Originally published in EdTech Digest 

Maker Resources Rule!

A report from the 2017 FETC exhibition hall.
GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Gura
CREDIT FETC 2017.jpg

Like one of
those all-powerful entities from Sci-Fi movies of the past, sometimes a monster edtech trend appears spontaneously, coalescing from a collection of basic elements and just waiting for a chance to challenge the status quo. Or so it seemed to me as I viewed a very impressive body of Maker-learning resources found throughout the recent 2017 FETC Expo in Orlando. As I explored the exhibitor floor, it became clear that all the exciting maker stuff there was coalescing into an edtech juggernaut, one that will continue to make a major impact in the character of learning.

It is up to the teacher and his or her understanding of creative processes and how to foster and spark student creativity that makes the greatest impact on whether or not Maker-based Learning experiences will be the very rich and hyper-relevant instruction that today’s students need.

When one considers the bountiful body of available Maker resources and what they make possible for today’s students, what comes into focus is a very uplifting vision of a transformed school experience. And, as things displayed at this year’s FETC attest, it’s a vision that’s good-to-go right now. Truly, there’s a very impressive body of affordable and practically implementable things waiting to make the concept of Maker-based Learning come alive in our schools.

There were too many items on the floor to describe them all here. And in fact, some, like the Little Bits electronic construction kits and the Makerbot 3D Printer are already well known, popular, and making a difference in the sort of learning experience schools now offer.
What follows here though, are some resources and the important ideas behind them I came across that I think are truly worth making note of and that I think readers would do well to follow up on, consider acquiring and putting them to good purpose in classrooms.

Tinker Table
As I wandered the exhibit floor, I was attracted to the buzz of excited, joyful activity at a ‘Tinker Table’ where dozens of teachers took advantage of mountains of freely offered supplies to spontaneously create items powered by miniature electronic components. This hub of inspiration powerfully demonstrated the potential Maker Resources represent to breathe fresh life into teaching and learning. The Tinker Table was part of the display area of United Data Technologies (UDT). Chief Technology Officer Danny Rodriguez explained to me that UDT provides an array of Maker oriented tech resources to schools, helping them select appropriate and effective resources and supporting them in managing and implementing them. My takeaway? Maker-based Learning can provide excitement and spontaneous expression-fueled learning – it offers high student engagement driven by opportunities for discovery, reflection, and hands-on learning in action. It was great to see a large gaggle of teachers modeling and living all this at the very center of the exhibit.

Meaningful Making
For me, a crucial issue in the whole Maker-based Learning conversation has to do with the goals and hoped for outcomes of Maker experiences in our schools. Above all, while we do want schools to adopt this approach, we want them to do it for the right reasons, hopefully even discover some reasons of their own that are consistent with and extend their understanding and commitment to 21st-century learning. What I mean is, good reasons for supporting students in making things with the components and resources we provide them, reasons that reflect another stage in achieving meaningful learning and not simply adopt Making as an attempt to stay in step with something that’s currently all-the-buzz—without aligning these au courant efforts to our highest educational goals and aspirations.

A further key question is, as Makers, do we want students to simply follow directions to replicate creations that others before them have already designed and proven can be assembled from parts provided? Or, do we want to them to shift their focus to the way humans meet their needs with machines, devices, and constructed inventions; identify and address a need on their own, and go through the rich, enlightening process of conceiving, prototyping, and refining creations of their own design?

And yes, there certainly is much value to be had from the former, there’s a good deal of math and science involved and making things is, indeed, a very good way to learn them. The second approach, though, the one in which deep understanding of the phenomenon of technology is understood, and student creativity is sparked, unleashed, focused and learned is so much more of what today’s kids truly need.

The good news is that, to one degree or another, pretty much all of the Maker resources that I reviewed and explored at the expo provide the opportunity for both sides of this equation, obviously some more than others. I walked away, more than ever though, understanding that so often it is up to the teacher and his or her understanding of creative processes and how to foster and spark student creativity that makes the greatest impact on whether or not Maker-based Learning experiences will be the very rich and hyper-relevant instruction that today’s students need.

Electronics Kits
When they think of Making, many conjure up images of circuits, processers, power units, connected lights, motors, probes, and the like. These were offered in the highly usable format of kits made fully ready and accessible for students. I saw several of these highly worthy of mention. In fact despite my jaded sensibilities, the result of years of reviewing edtech resources, I found myself broadly smiling, even on the verge of cheering at just how right some of their providers had gotten them.

A few I’d like to mention are:
The soon-to-be-released Microduino kit offers components that are neatly stackable and that adhere to one another magnetically. Very neat and it’s easy to see that these components might be reused endlessly as part of a great many learning projects. The little Arduino processor that the gentleman at the booth showed me was well encased in a plastic frame making it safe to touch, easy to handle, and very easy to integrate into all sorts of machines that student inventors might come up with. I love the magnetic components and plug and unplug electronic cables that obviate other, more difficult and potentially hazardous ways of connecting components.

I fell in love with Sparkfun’s new Lillypad Sewable Electronics Kit right away. This kit’s cover shows a photo of a small group of young girls working on technology projects together. Seems to me to be (importantly) girl oriented, we need to encourage girls to take ownership of technology as their natural instincts and passions may dictate. Along with the now well known, Makey Makey and others, this kit was featured at the Sparkfun booth, nicely broadening the array of wonderful possibilities that the Maker Niche offers learners in need of hands-on, minds-on engagement.

The Piper kit got a big smile from me when I came across it at the booth. Kids construct a computer from its essential components and elements, including a cool looking wooden case that houses the computer and the parts and tools with which it is constructed. According to the rep manning the booth, as soon as students get enough assembled so that the small display is activated, the computer itself provides video instruction on how to build it out further until it is complete and does much of what one would expect from any computer these days. This could help a school establish a great segment of a technology education program. I was left wondering though about open-ended projects that students might do beyond creating the computer.

3D Printers
MakerBot, the first 3D Printer that many of us ever saw or even heard about, was widely represented at the booths of several re-sellers as well as at its own. This item bridges the gap between learning about making things, and actually making them. Currently, manufacturing involves the use of computer technology to aid in the research, design, and in the actual fabrication of so much. Computers drive robots and machines of all types. MakerBot paved the way, or at least a good part of it, with its affordable, easy to comprehend and use 3D Printer. Anyone still not aware of these wonderful little devices and their history and significance should check out the (YouTube available) video Print the Legend t which explores the growth of the 3D printing industry, with focus on Startup companies like MakerBot.

In a related vein, what I found remarkable at AP Lazer’s booth is that they were showing a commercial grade, industrial laser engraving machine. I chatted with one of the reps there who explained that they are just beginning to place these in schools, that is, beyond technical schools where one might reasonably expect to find such things. In fact, I was informed that this company had placed one recently in a middle school. This is really quite something, because following the logic of Maker-based Learning; the advantage is for the student to produce a real ‘something’ in the real world. This item though, elevates this prospect from producing a small plastic thingie that sort of resembles an authentic artifact to something with a very strong presence in the real world. I was shown beautifully etched items with designs laser cut into wood and stone. Some schools just may want to consider this.

Virtual Making
If Maker-based Learning is about creating things, it’s things that kids make as an expression of their focused experimentation and their application of thinking skills. If their making is a response to challenges and issues they identify in the real world as well as those they imagine, then why wouldn’t “Virtual Making” be an effective and exciting part of this?

Actually, the folks at Tynker, a popular resource to support student learning about and applications of Coding, understand that well and have placed on their website an answer to that question:
“Coding is the Language of Creativity – Learning to code at a young age isn’t just about becoming a programmer—coding is a creative outlet, a way to challenge yourself, a collaboration tool, and a new way to interact with your digital world. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen from the Tynker community. Kids are creating incredible games and stories, they’re learning from each other, and they’re pushing themselves to create projects they’re truly proud of.”

This orientation, and things to implement it well with students, was much evident at the Tynker booth.

Making Crosses Over to Robotics
Interestingly, while there were many Maker resource booths to visit, and there was a similar number of robotics resources on exhibit, there were a few that also spoke to the crossover between the two realms of tech-supported learning, an opportunity that I think is important and needs to be expanded.
Sphero is already quite well known for its student robots. Interestingly, these are not in that niche of resources that call for students to construct their own robot. SPHERO is one of those that comes already assembled, encouraging students to learn coding by programming it. At the booth at FETC, though, there was an intriguing interactive exhibit in which a SPHERO robot was used as the power for a more elaborate robot in which it was mounted, thus making it something of an engine. I love clever adaptations of robotics materials like this. I hope to see Sphero expand its line of robots and its applications of them as learning resources. This display pointed out new possibilities and new aspects of technology for student discovery and inspiration, something that, in my mind, was emblematic of the whole of the FETC 2017 Expo.

Mark Gura is an Advisory Board Member and Contributing Editor at EdTech Digest and the author of the recently released book, Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School published by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education).