Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Next Gen Can be SEW Fun at VSTA Conference

Leah Joly and I had 'great fun'  teaching science teachers  how to use eTextiles and other Soft Circuits to create models that explain phenomena at  the Vermont Science Teachers Association Conference.  Our workshop "Next Gen Can be Sew Fun"  started as an inquiry into the potential that Maker Ed has to support teaching and learning in science.   This inquiry lead me to amazing resources about eTextiles, Soft Circuits  and about the creation of models as a practice in Next Generation Science standards.

The best part of the workshop was how much we learned about the PROCESS of learning through creating models by actually CREATING our own science models to showcase during the workshop.   That process validated my 'theory' that maker skills and tools can support the process of learning in science.

By being familiar with how to create both parallel and serial circuits  (a 4th grade standard) I was able to access the concept that the loss of energy as it moves through each LED powered by a battery in a serial circuit, was much like the loss of energy moving through a food chain.

  I definitely went through each phase of the creativity cycle from IMAGINE to PUBLISH as I created my Food Web Model.

As a learner I started to imagine the design of my model.  My imagination was limited to my own mental model of the food web and the materials I was familiar with.  Since I was familiar with the way the serial circuit worked from recent adventures in "making",  I was able to imagine the energy in a serial circuit working the way the energy in a food web worked.

But as I started to CREATE and PLAY with different materials,  I did lots of RESEARCH  to make sure that my MODEL accurately represented my growing understanding of the food web.  It was important to me that the example I used was scientifically accurate.  As I shared my idea with others I was also sharing my mental model, explaining  which materials I chose and how they symbolized various levels of the food chain.

Example of a  BUILD in PROGRESS Food Web Model
I used a tool called Build in Progress to capture my process and explain my thinking.   Sharing the process (not simply the product) through  a tool like Build a Progress which was designed with sharing the PROCESS in mind would allow a teacher to provide better feedback to students at various points in their process to more students,  yielding more opportunity to REFLECT  by both the teacher and the students during the process of building.  And with that reflection came more iteration of the design as my mental model went through its own iterative process,  growing in accuracy and closer to the conceptual model that accurately represented the food web in Lake Champlain.

In MAKING the act of  PUBLISHING  does not mean that I would be publishing words (as in a book or paper),  but that I would be completing a PRODUCT  (thus publishing)  that would be shared with others.  The Build in Progress Food Web Model was one way to publish, but so was the sharing of my artifact with other colleagues.   My desire for my model to be  scientifically accurate was increased because I was investing myself into something beautiful, something I made with my hands that was not simply a drawing where I labeled consumers and producers on a paper diagram.    The whole process created a deeper understanding of both the way energy flows through a serial circuit and through the food chain. and set me right up to imagine more possibilities in making  and in how the world around me works.

The following slides are filled with ideas, academic research,  examples, tutorials, and resources that we were able to organize around the topic of using Soft Circuits as a tool for creating models in science education.

And to top it all off,  we learned a lot about each other as we watched our colleagues express themselves in very different ways with the materials we made available to our participants.

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