Monday, July 14, 2014

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014 Reflection

Last week I attended a “minds-on” learning experience in Manchester, New Hampshire titled Constructing Modern Knowledge.  This was very much an “unconference” type environment where the participants spend a bulk of their time working on self-selected projects with daily presenters who talked about their passions and experience to inspire our learning.  Describing the four-day long learning environment is challenging but imagine an adult maker-space with wildly creative educators challenging each other’s thinking while using computers and electronics as learning and art tools.  
The week kicked off with a presentation from the CMK organizer, Gary Stager, that launched into a collective brainstorming session with one prompt, “What do you want to make?” Ideas like giant robot arms, interactive sound garden, robotic high-five, automated chicken coup, drone, etc. were written down on giant Post-its and hung around the conference hall.  From there, attendees started self-organizing into groups based on interests in bringing ideas to fruition.   The days that followed were a milieu of thinking, making, trying, failing, and collaborating all in the name of learning.  There was a bevy of electronic components to play with and enhance the making process.  This was also a tremendous learning opportunity for me.  I’ve dabbled in the world of programming and computer parts but the CMK environment immersed me in a pool of things like Ardiuno, MakeyMakey, LittleBits, Scratch programming, LEDs, sensors, wire, soldering and basic computer-based making.  It was an exceptional opportunity to apply newly acquired knowledge and have some fun doing it! At the end of the week I found I had learned more from the people around me than I could have expected.  It reinforced the idea of learning as a social activity and function.  I learned by making, sharing, asking questions, playing, and interacting with the people around me.  I Googled things I didn’t know, asked someone that knew more than me and helped others with things I knew about.  The level of knowledge, collaboration, creative energy, and appetite for learning was unparalleled in my professional learning experiences.   On top of it all, was the opportunity to listen and learn from an assortment of world class guest speakers.  Mitchel Resnick, Edith Ackermann, Pete Nelson, Cam Perron, Marvin Minksy, and Gary Stager shared their expertise in areas relating to education and learning.  Not only did the speakers talk to us and answer our questions, many of them spent time exploring our projects, asking us questions, and helping with our making.  It was truly an open-ended learning environment where trust and autonomy were paramount in my “unconference” experience.

To see a video that overviews a little of my learning experience, click here.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

#GeniusHour Update #2

It's been a pretty wild and interesting progression of events with our #geniushour students since we began a little over ten weeks ago.  As the weeks passed there's been a tremendous amount of feedback from students, teachers AND parents about the projects and their outcomes.  What began with a 30 minute, whole-class brainstorm activity, grew into nearly a dozen projects of student choice, driven by student interest and passion.

Here is a partial list of questions that have been researched, discussed, and answered.  In some cases, like the question regarding wormholes, the term "answered" is relative, relatively speaking.  (See what I did there?)

How can I learn about and make codes?
How can you come up with a successful NHL team?
How can I make and publish a book?
Can we make a video game on a flashdrive?
What are wormholes and what role do they play in modern science?
How do you make a claymation movie?
How do you make a movie?
What is the scale of Minecraft in relation to real life?
Which gender has better senses?
Can we make a rocket that goes 400ft high?

Watching and supporting the development of these projects was a tremendous learning experience for everyone involved.  I want to break it down into three groups: me (admin support), teachers (classroom and data/tech coach) and students.

As a (pseudo) administrator, I simply encouraged and supported the teachers to try something they heard about at EdCampChicago and had been reading about on Twitter.  (Our building principal was also very encouraging of the idea.)  I have some experience guiding basically the same idea from when I offered 20% Time to my students as a 4th grade teacher, which proved helpful in supporting the teachers to structure time, create outlines, and assessing student work.  I also was able to support certain projects that I had personal interest and knowledge about, like the rocket project.

The classroom teacher really stepped out of her comfort zone to try something new and grow as an educator.  It takes courage to take risks in education but, as she has seen in the student projects, the rewards in student learning and excitement can sometimes be literally incalculable.  Genius hour is not a traditional curriculum by any stretch of the imagination and some might rightly justify the concept as progressive.  Like all of life's challenges, it takes bravery to navigate the unknown but support and encouragement from those around you is incredibly helpful.

And finally, the students.  This is the easy part.  Apart from one student, there was little we as educators had to do in order to create interest or generate ideas.  The students did 99% of the work associated with answering their questions, not because they were told to do it, because they wanted to do it.  It's that simple.  The kids shared ideas and questions they were interested in, we (as teachers) helped them more clearly articulate their goals and then gave the students time, space and resources to make it happen.

The spoils of these learning experiences really are the student outcomes.  I've watched a group of boys build and successfully launch a rocket, I'm in chapter six of a 240 page original novel written by a 5th grader, played part of a video game made with Scratch, and watched a research study make a case for girls as the superior gender.  And that is only a sample of what I've seen from these kids.  Call it genius hour, call it progressive education, call it taking risks, but as our principal says, it's really just "teaching kids."