Sunday, October 29, 2017

3 Things That Scare Me in Education--(Halloween Edition)

Education is shifting--but that's not scary to me. Schools are embracing changes and looking ahead to the future. That's exciting!  Infusing inquiry and hands-on learning into classroom--that's the good stuff, but there's some scary stuff out there that is more a trick than a treat.  Here are three things that we need to reconsider in education.

1.  Homework

As an educator and a parent, I am scared about the mounds of homework I see.  Matt Miller and Alice Keeler preach about this in their book Ditch That Homework  and I couldn't agree
more.  Why are we inundated our young people with meaningless assignments and piles of paperwork?  Let's give them valuable tasks to do at home, like reading together or taking a walk as a family.  Homework is scary, mostly because there's just so much of it but also because research doesn't support it.  Research shows that less is more.  So, let's stop this terrifying trend and reconsider the type of work that our students should do at home. 

2.  Desks in rows

When I see sterile classrooms with desks in neatly formed rows, I just want to scream!  AAAHHH! Who wants to learn in a space like this?  With the recent flexible seating trend, more classrooms are shifting away from this frightening set-up and moving towards seating options that meet the needs of our students.  Student-centered classrooms should fit the learning needs of the kids.  My NAESP article Learning Space Transformation talks about why this is so critical for our students.  Let's create classrooms that support creativity and collaboration, because the only other place I know of that is set up in rows is here!

3.  BOOOOOO worksheets!

I know some classrooms, who alone, may send the school copier to a cemetery from the amount of papers they copy each day.  In one day, I know a kindergarten student who brought home 15 papers.  Yes, FIFTEEN! That is an awful lot of trees killed--and that is pretty scary.  Can't we move away from the worksheet mindset and look to more authentic types of learning?  I know that some people will never give up their paper and pencil tests on Fridays, but we owe it to our students to provide meaningful learning opportunities that engage and excite them.

I know the thought of moving away from homework, desks, and assignments may be just as scary to some.  Maybe what I am suggesting sounds like a horror movie to you. I challenge you all to ditch the homework, change up the rows, and give up the worksheets--- just for a week.  I wonder what will change for your students if you do????

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

6 Tips For STEAM Maker Success

Chances are your school is moving forward with some type of STEMish program.  STEM or STEAM or STREAM or whatever you may title it--this integrated approach to learning in the content areas is taking hold in many schools. 

Personally, I favor the term STEAM, because I believe the A is an integral part of learning.  Makers are artists, thus bridging the connection between STEAM and Making.  Many schools are pushing their thinking ahead and pairing his hands-on approach with makerspace learning. 

Just as every makerspace looks different from the next, every program will also look different.  Here are 6 tips that will help as you develop any of these learning experiences in your school.

1. Empower

Why are you embracing STEAM and Making?  What types of opportunities will you provide?  Let your student decide!  Empower them to make decisions.  Can they design the learning space?  Can they select the materials to buy?  How might they learn the learning for others?  Include your students early and often when planning any STEAM Maker initiatives. Empower them to drive the learning.

2.  Invite

Reach out to parents and community members and invite them in.  If they aren't familiar with STEAM or Making, here's your chance to share the joy.  Plan a parent maker night.  Not only can an event like this engage parents, it's always a great way to restock your space.  Ask each family to donate a clean recyclable item like paper towel rolls, water bottles, or even a dollar store item.  The important part is to share the experience with those who are outside of the school by extending the invitation and the learning.

3.  Connect

Explore the potential partners you may have right in your backyard.  Community partners like local businesses, universities, or corporations can add value to your program in a number of ways.  Can the community partner support your students through mentoring?  Can students design and create for an authentic business audience? Maybe they can support you with funding or support with materials.  Establishing relationships with communities partners can have both long and short term benefits for your students.

4.  Ask

Don't be afraid to ask . . . for anything.  There are lots of organizations supporting STEAM and Maker learning.  Ask them for stuff!  Materials, time, support, tools.  We beg, borrow, and steal in education, right?

Bird Brain Technologies, a Pittsburgh company, has a loan program for their educational robotics materials.  So instead of struggling to figure out how to fit this into your budget, you can borrow items for a month or two and then pass them on to another educator.  Last year, I reached out to a local company who sold used furniture and other recycled items and asked for some flexible seating for my school.  They generously donated twice what I requested.  You'll never know unless you ask!

5.  Visit

In education, we can become isolated.  We stay in our classrooms and teach our students, and that's it.  Now with social media like Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook more teachers are sharing questions, ideas, and practices but we still stay isolated in our physical spaces.  Get out!  Visit other schools.  Check out other makerspaces or innovative STEAM programs near you. Talk to other educators engaging in this work. Expanding your horizons and visiting other schools can be both validating and refreshing!

6.  Build

STEAM and Maker learning is only as good as the facilitators leading it.  Building capacity among the educators in your school by providing innovative PD that includes hands-on learning and skills in Making are critical to the sustainability of a program.  During our recent professional development day, we offered an "innovation lounge" where teachers could tinker with educational technology tools and collaborate with colleagues in an informal setting.  This summer, we offered teacher workshops on sewing, circuitry, and soldering for those who wanted to plan ways to incorporate hands-on learning into their language arts classrooms.  How do you build capacity for STEAM Maker learning in your school or district? 

STEAM and Maker Education provide a hands-on pathway to learning that is growing in schools across the country.  These six tips can provide some guidance for those just getting started or for those well on their way.  What other tips would you share?