Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finding your WHY during #makered professional development



EMMA - Lucie's mobile studio for Creating and Making
Last week  EMMA (my mobile studio for creating and making) and I had the pleasure leading a two day workshops for Champlain Valley Educator Development Center (CVEDC) for educators who might want to create a makerspace in their school.

I had just finished my annual  five day Create Make Learn Summer Institute  and I was filled with ideas of what I might want to include in this two day event.  The biggest problem was that I wanted to include TOO much!  Stepping back I reached into my teacher toolbox and used  a backward design approach to think about  WHAT I wanted them to leave with at the end of the two days!  I decided that what I really wanted them to be able to do is to “articulate WHY a Makerspace in MY School?”  or at least be ready to lead that conversation with their colleagues.



Video Summary of Two Day Workshop





Too many educators approach me with one question -
“Can you give us a shopping list of things that we should consider getting for a maker space and where to get them?”  

I try to resist answering that question until they can tell me their WHY. But the problem is that this is a chicken and egg situation. It’s hard to know your WHY if you have not experienced maker centered learning. You don’t know what’s possible. Of if you do, your understanding of what’s possible is limited to the areas you have experienced or what you have read. And since there is NO shortage of amazing materials about maker spaces (including shopping lists of resources) available online, educators are often feeling overwhelmed and confused. It was my goal that my two day workshop would provide teachers with a clearer understanding of some of the tools, technologies and materials often found in a maker space as well as WHAT type of impact having these available for students might have on learning.


This type of understanding does not simply come from looking at lists of maker space supplies.  This type of understanding does not just come from sitting around  talking about pedagogy.  This type of understanding does not come from creating a large collection of STEAM based lesson plans.  This type of understanding comes from from all of the above combined with experiencing the learning process that happens as you Create and Make.



It was my challenge to create a HANDS-ON MINDS-ON experience that left a group of teachers feeling empowered to have deeper conversations around maker spaces in their schools.


Generator - a community maker space
It all started with picking two great locations for the workshop.  We kicked off the workshop at the Generator  - a community maker space in Burlington Vermont, followed up with Day 2 in a school maker space - Studio B (the BTC maker space in Burlington Schools)  The locations of the workshops were instrumental to helping our group (mostly PreK - 8 teachers)  start to understand the possible WHY of a makerspace.   The locations for our workshop also highlighted how important that we examine our WHY as part of an interconnected system - a community of makers, educators, artists, inventors,  problem solvers,  and innovators shaping the future.  Our Why should be shaped by a greater understanding of how each of us contributes to the system and how we can help each other towards a greater collective impact.


In the spirit of backward design, the location helped these teachers of younger learners understand where their young learners COULD end up in just a few years.  It’s an incredible responsibility to be charged with creating the next generation of inventors, problem solvers,  and innovators.  What do we do to help teachers prepare for this daunting tasks?  


One of the best things you can do is to hold workshops in locations filled with inspirations and examples of what their YOUNG LEARNERS might be CREATING and MAKING in THEIR future.   

Too many teachers ask that a workshop give them something they can DO TOMORROW in THEIR CLASSROOM.   We need to think BIGGER than this!   Yes,  the workshop should also provide that practical thing you can use tomorrow,  but more importantly it should leave you inspired to prepare students for THEIR future.  





As we toured the Generator, I asked teachers to take as many pictures as they could of INSPIRATION that they could use to better understand what their students might be able to create someday.   I also suggested that they take pictures of tools and materials that might be useful in a makerspace.   This would be the beginning of the LIST of tools and materials they asked for in our earlier conversation.  THEY would build this list together from their experience over the next two days!   Trying to model that a teacher’s job is not to provide a ready made solution, but to help students ask the right questions and  design a solution to questions like (How do I create a makerspace in my school), I was determined not to provide a recipe but to help them create their own individual design that matched their WHY!  

It was my goal that their question would move from “What should I buy and where do I get it?”  to “How do I set kids on a journey to create and make amazing artifacts or solutions to problems.”  


Educators inspired by Generators Member Projects


The locations of our two day workshop set the stage perfectly for this to happen.


After our tour of the Generator,  we jumped into a Make and Take that not only left teachers with their own IDEA Journal where they could flesh out their WHY, but also with a clearer understanding of the process of learning and making with tools like vinyl cutters, CNC machines, laser cutters, 3D printers.   The consensus was that even though many of the teachers might NOT USE THIS TOMORROW, they NOW UNDERSTOOD the difference between each of these technologies. They knew the difference between additive technology and subtractive technology.  They knew the pros and cons of choosing a laser cutter vs a CNC machine to solve a problem or create an artifact.  




Creating and Making our Idea Journals

Using a Laser Cutter or a Vinyl Cutter  
Or a 3D Printer

Or perhaps a CNC machine


So many choices!  So much fun to explore the possibilities as we learn new skills.


By the end of the first day, this group of educators agreed that they knew which tools were more accessible to their learners and which ones would require students to develop  pre-requisite skills. They could design experiences in their classroom that helped build those skills.  They started to see connections between some real world applications to content in their curriculum (i.e. X, Y, Z axis) They started to understand tools and processes that their students might have available in the not too distant future.  Even if some of the teachers did  NOT have these technologies in their classroom, they knew they were preparing students to use tools that might be in their school soon (if not already)   or might be accessible in their community through partnerships with community maker spaces like the Generator.



On Day 2 we moved to a school maker space Studio B - a school maker space ( at the Burlington Technical Center.  Too few teachers are aware of the changing role that Career and Technical Education can play in the lives of our students.  The 16 Career and Technical Education Centers that serve ALL of Vermont’s students are not the “vocational programs” that many of us experienced when we were students.  They provide amazing opportunities for students who thrive in hands-on minds on environment using some of the most advanced technologies in the industry. They prepare our students to succeed in college and post-secondary training and have several dual enrollment college opportunities built into them.  



As Vermont teachers help advise and mentor students in developing personal learning plans for their educational journey, both our teachers and our students need increased awareness of the Career and Technical Center opportunities available in their school district.  Our Day 2 venue did this in so many ways, including the long walk to the bathroom as we passed classrooms labeled Welding or Aviation.  Having spent 15 years teaching in a Career and Technical Center, I can attest that the students who are filling our current school makerspaces absolutely need to know about these opportunities; and as teachers we can help increase their awareness by increasing our own awareness to better mentor them through their personal learning plans.


Courtney welcomes us to Studio B
We were welcomed to Burlington Technical Center by Courtney Asaro who had helped design and set up the Studio B makerspace just last year.  We had the added bonus of having Courtney talk to us about her work with younger learners at Flynn Elementary.  Courtney described how SHE and her young students would be collaborating with the Burlington Technical Center in the upcoming school year.  She also shared examples of how Flynn Elementary students had collaborated with Generator members, driving home the importance of understanding the power of leveraging the community as you develop your maker education journey.


Our morning conversation was rich and had a natural flow to it as teachers debriefed the previous day and prepared for our second day of making.  Listening to what surprised them, what was challenging, and what inspired them revealed that they were really starting to understand their “WHY” and how  a makerspace might fit into their school.  Seeing similar technologies in a school maker space as they had seen earlier at the Generator, (laser cutter, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, CNC machine, power tools, hand tools, and more) our group of educators were less interested in the ‘tools’  and more interested in the process of making.  The shift in the conversations was a perfect set up to the experiences I had designed for the day.


Our Day 2  workshop design revolved around the multi-disciplinary Transferrable Skills that Vermont teachers are being asked to design their own learning around.  







By the end of the morning, our teachers had experienced how increased confidence with circuits and code  could equip students with tools for Creative and Practical Problem Solving,  Mathematical Standards of Practice and Science and Engineering Practice found in Next Generation Science Standards.


They had experienced the fun and joy of creating their own inventions using a Makey Makey.  I shared  stories with concrete examples from classrooms around Vermont of students demonstrating Self Direction,  Responsible Citizenship, and Integrated and Informed Systems through Creating and Making in their schools.   Their understanding of where coding fit into the big picture grew as they experienced an unplugged coding activities that set them up to a successful experience using  the Scratch coding environment to control their own  inventions and physical objects with a Makey Makey.  Laughter and joy combined with persevering through challenges lead to discussions about growing MINDSET as well as  SKILLS in our students.  




The workshop ended with another MAKE and TAKE that used Paper Circuits to expand the possibilities of  Clear and Effective Communications.  Equipped with new skills (from designing closed circuits to soldering) and examples of how various teachers and students had used these skills in their curriculum, our teachers started to imagine ways they could integrate creating and making with circuits in their own learning spaces.  






The conversations about pedagogy happened naturally through our making,  through our questions,  and through our sharing of ideas that emerged throughout the two days.  However, the experience did not stop them from asking one more time -- “Do you have a LIST of supplies for us?”  I pointed to the supplies we had used over the two days and also to a few great resources online that included such lists and I smiled when I heard one of them exclaim.. “Now I know what this stuff is.  I would have had no idea what a jumper cable was and why I might need it before.”




I encouraged them to keep taking and collecting picture of materials, to keep sharing tools, materials, processes they discover, but mostly to keep asking WHY as they looked over each item in a pre-populated makerspace list of resources and to look through these lists with a LENS that included their WHY!  Yes, there WHY would change over time and should not be static, but hopefully these two days helped to create a lens by which they could continue the journey of creating a makerspace in their school in a powerful and meaningful way.


And hopefully I left my participants more curious and hungry for more.  Perhaps we’ll even see some of them at next year’s 5 day Create Make Learn Summer Institute.




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