Monday, December 10, 2012

Making a MakerSpace

Soft & Squishy Circuits
This past summer I decided that I wanted to create a "MakerSpace" at my school. I teach a Robotics after school program once a week, and was already planning to introduce some Arduino boards into the mix of Mindstorms RCX blocks that the students currently build with.
My experience with making and electronics is limited, but I love to learn new things and was extremely excited about my new Arduino I purchased and playing around with the different (and very basic) things I could do with it. I am also very fortunate to have colleagues and friends who do have experience and knowledge so I could also learn from them.
This fall I put together a basic Donor's Choose grant to purchase some basic supplies. I already had some supplies I could bring from home, a soldering iron, wires, tools etc. The first time you put together something with Donor's Choose you must use their suppliers. This posed a small problem at first when I realized that I couldn't include any Arduino or LilyPad electronics or kits. But I soon realized that I could order switches, motors, LEDS, tools, hot glue gun, safety glasses, solder, and create the foundation for our MakerSpace.
My favourite purchase was the long folding table. My classroom is a computer lab with tables that are not moveable and have computers permanently attached to them. The table is "our MakerSpace", we pull it out and place chairs around it and we have our work area. I even wrote The Computer School MakerSpace along the edges of it. It is a symbolic thing I guess.
My students have taken to "our space" very quickly. This post will be the start of a series of postings which will document our MakerSpace adventure.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Standard-Based Grades, "What's The Point"?

Our school has one full year of using SBG throughout the school yet there are still so many questions, misconceptions, and confusion surrounding the topic. For so many teachers and even parents, there are so many deep-rooted notions and traditions attached to grading that it is a difficult topic to approach without bringing any previous "baggage". I thought it might be useful to make a list of understandings that I have felt to be a philosophically sound base to build one's understanding on.

The first and most important thing is to rid your mind of any preconceptions you might have about grading practice and assessment. This is particularly important if the only experience you have had is with traditional grading systems.

SBG should not be about a "grade", it is never about whether the work or the assignment was done, or completed, was late or was lost, it is always about what the individual student understands at any given point in time. It isn't about effort or how hard a student tries, it is never a reward or a punishment. It isn't about building character.

A student's understanding of a specific item should change over the course of the school year, or the unit. Typically the understanding would follow a path from not knowing to becoming proficient. The standards for each class are the same throughout the year, but the specific learning targets change with each unit. These learning targets are subsets of the broader standards.

Learning goals or targets for each unit are best offered to students as "I can" statements and although they are based upon the state or national standards, they should be translated into more specific goals that fit your curriculum.

Remember that learning goals are the reason you are teaching the unit. What do you want the student to learn? This shouldn't be a broad and generalized goal, such as "to read" or "vocabulary" but specific such as "I can cite two examples from the text to back up my idea".

It is important to separate out the learning goals (which are the ends) with the activities (which are the means to the end). The activity is not the assessment, the activity is where the student constructs their understanding of the unit. It is through working on activities that the student is able to demonstrate their understanding of the learning targets.

Think of it as "doing" and "understanding". The activity or project should not be something tacked on to do at home or after the learning has been done through notes or readings. Students demonstrate their understandings as they work through activities and projects. Understanding develops and deepens over time, practice is what allows for this.

Assessment is when the teacher is checking for understanding. Assessment can be in many shapes and sizes, but it is important to note that you are assessing individual learning targets and NOT the assignment or activity. Mastery is something that is measured over time, a student choosing the correct answer on a multiple choice test is not mastery.

The teacher should offer multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding, but this doesn't have to be retaking tests and reassessing homework, it should be built into the activities of the unit and can sometimes be as simple as observation or asking questions while the student is working.

One of the most important aspects of SBG should be how it can put the responsibility of learning onto the student. There needs to be a continuous dialogue in the classroom as to what it is you want the students to be understanding and what ideas they should be exploring. Students should begin to develop strategies for being able to demonstrate their understandings to teachers and teachers should realize that activities and projects can and should take many physical forms. When students begin to design what their projects look like, they being to internalize the understanding of the learning targets in a much deeper and richer way.

Disclaimer: I wrote this in preparation for a short P.D. presentation at my school. This is my take on SBG and many of my thoughts are based on several readings (particularly Robert Marzano), several EdCampNYC sessions attended and discussion via my Twitter PLN. I welcome any deeper or further discussion on this subject and realize there are many strands of thought to this subject.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Catching Up and Making a Commitment to Write

It has been too long. I seem to have so many ideas and reflections and contemplations (is that even a word) as I move about my day, but getting them down on this blog is proving to be a hurdle. With this post I am going to make a commitment to myself to write something once a week. To document or record something that happened in my classroom, to reflect upon something that happened, or something I read, to ask questions about education practice, to go deeper into some of the experiences or thoughts that I had.
I have three topics that I have listed right now on my "to write about" list;
  1. Wrap up my thoughts on SBAR (SBG), in particular thoughts about how the school implemented it this past year.
  2. Creating/constructing a space for learning and tinkering, what does that mean?
  3. Tinkering, defining tinkering, where does that occur? Is there a next step? What does tinkering look like in school?
Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

True Collaboration In The Classroom

Students using Google Docs to collaborate.
A couple of weeks ago I started my Stop-Motion Animation Unit. Typically the work done in my class is individual, my classroom is a computer lab and I teach each class only twice a week (although students do help, teach, demonstrate and share their individual projects with each other). For the stop-motion unit I have the students in teams of 4 where they brainstorm, write a script, design characters, design and build sets and props, film and then work on the post-production aspects of their project together.
This year I am using Google Docs, I set up Google Apps for Education at my school this past fall, so now all students have a school email and access to the Google tools. In the past I approached this project in a very typical "group setup", assigning roles, using paper handouts where the students were to write up the scripts etc, encouraging them to use shared digital documents, but because of the time constraints I was never really able to figure out anything even partially successful.
This time round everything changed. The students have all been collaborating real time, using the chat feature to brainstorm with each other, and writing up the outline, script, planning their sets, characters, materials, in a very authentic and engaged way using Google docs. I set up a template that had an outline and basic writing prompts so each group had a common starting point. I am amazed at how much work has been done so far in the writing and planning aspect of this project while the sets and the props have also been built. Last time it seemed as if I was pulling teeth when it came to the writing and the planning and storyboarding.
The real highlight of this process is the participation of every group member. I have always had trouble with the idea of group work because I typically see group work in other classes being the "smart" or "motivated" kid doing the writing and the "other kids" in the peripheral, either contributing verbal suggestions or maybe just sitting there, knowing that the work will get done and the group grade will work to their favour.
I am excited about the energy radiating from the students so far as they work out their ideas together, in a truly collaborative way.
(more photos of their work in progress)