Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Are Makerspaces Important to Learning

I have extremely mixed emotions about Makerspaces and the whole maker movement.  On one hand, I feel much like Matthew Arend, the Principal at Sigler Elementary in Plano, TX., who shared in his post How Our Space Became a Makerspace that makerspaces potentially insure that “collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking happened the moment you walked into the room.” (Arend 2015)  I think the ability of Makerspaces to elicit the 4Cs of 21st Century learning is their greatest asset.  On the other hand, if not addressed properly, I am weary that the Maker Movement has the potential to turn into 21st century arts and crafts.  As we see in the P21 Framework, the 4Cs are only a small subset of a much larger pedagogical approach.
(Partnership for 21st Century Learning P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning)

When backed by sound educational practice, makerspaces certainly have the ability to “promote multidisciplinary thinking and learning, enriching the projects that are built there and the value of the makerspace as an educational venue.“(7 Things You Should Know About Makerspaces) But without proper backing and commitment, my fear is that the concept will become just another failed attempt at educational reform.  

I have attended a number of maker events at conferences, visited school based innovation spaces, listened to people I respect extol the value of re-designing learning spaces (i.e., and even attended a maker faire or two.  Unfortunately, what I often see is a strange dichotomy.  Adults and children alike tend to gravitate towards the entry level experiences.  They visit the areas that let them build an LED felt project, construct Squishy Circuits or play with Legos.  The more advanced and what I consider truly innovative technologies, end up being more experiential than constructive.  While putting on a pair of VR glasses, steering a Sphero or a robot around a maze, or watching a 3D printer mold a logo may be “cool”, these experiences only spark interest.  It is up to innovative educators to fan that spark into a blazing fire that unleashes the true potential of the maker movement.  

I contend there is a difference between imagination and innovation and that a broad spectrum separates those two traits.  Imagination is the thought process and the creative design of the Maker movement.  When granted space and time for exploration, an “informal, playful atmosphere allows learning to unfold,  rather than conform to a rigid agenda.” (What is the Maker Movement)  But, innovation comes from “deliberate actions to improve a learning environment by adapting a method of presenting material to students that involves human interaction, hands-on activities and student feedback. “ (What is curriculum innovation and change?)  There are often wide gaps between ideas and meaningful implementation.

Certainly, it is imperative that we foster the imaginative ideas of young learners; however, I feel that as educators we need to take this a step further and make sure they have the opportunity to convert those ideas into reality by supplying the proper tools, resources and motivation.  And this is where I think many of us are currently failing.

In younger grades, Makerspaces allow students to play with new concepts and ideas.  They can begin to conceptualize and codify thoughts that will lay the foundation for further exploration as they mature.  Playing with a Makey-Makey, building lego constructions, drawing with Circuit Scribes and 3Doodlers can all become creative conduits that lay a foundation for innovation.  Indeed, Vygotsky viewed “play as a transitional stage from a child’s thinking constrained by the properties of a current situation to thinking totally free from these constraints.” (Bodrova, Leong 2105)

However, if the Makerspace movement is going to become more than the latest in a long line of educational “buzz words” and political propaganda, it has to include real-world application.  Students must be allowed to prototype and develop products that have true impact and address real world problems.   

When given the right technology, encouragement and support, students are able to accomplish amazing things.  Gabriel Fillippini a high school Junior in Loudoun County, Virginia worked with his teacher and a community group to develop a prosthetic hand for his 6 year old brother using the 3D printer at his high school. (Carey, Hartleb 2016) Unfortunately, the Video News Story will not embed here. It can be viewed at:

Of course, not every Makerspace success story is going to have such a spectacular effect.  But that doesn’t mean it should not have purpose.  The Godium Project was inspired by Kevin Honeycutt and implemented by the Ness City Student Innovations group.  Kevin is a well known keynote speaker and educational innovator who had a problem.  Kevin was buying and replacing too many suitcases and had too much equipment to carry.  So, Kevin partnered with Brent Kerr, a woodshop teacher at USD 303 in Ness City, Kansas and his students to develop a traveling suitcase that could convert to a podium when Kevin presented at conferences around the world. The students were able to work with Kevin and innovate and iterate to create a product that challenged “students to bring something new and needed to the world.” (Honeycutt 2016)

After seeing Kevin’s pitch for the Godium, I may just need to contact Ness City Student Innovations and order one for myself:
Makerspaces do not need to be fancy or expensive to be successful.  One of my favorite stories comes from Grand Center Arts Academy in St. Louis where Andrew Goodin a member of the Disruption Department allowed students to create their own space inside an empty room.  The students chose to address bullying and rumor mongering and developed “a box that anyone could approach, push a button, and say something really mean that they would typically say to someone else. Then, the box would ceremoniously "erase" their words (by playing a song or producing a noise), and say something complimentary back instead.”  (Stories from a School Makerspace).  These students had no resources at their disposal and had to hypothesize and then borrow materials from other teachers and janitors in the building to develop their prototype.  
The above examples are the kind of real world experiences that allow a makerspace to become a sustainable environment.  It makes the students want to continue to explore, genuinely innovate and take ownership of their learning.  By providing adequate guidance and supports teachers can certainly help students accomplish amazing things in a makerspace environment.   While not every school needs to have a formal makerspace, all learners could certainly benefit from the imagination and ingenuity that forms the foundation of the Maker movement.  The important thing is to target real world problems and weave creativity into the curriculum and open pathways to innovation that align with national standards.

Arend, M. (2015, January 10). My Thoughts...My Reflections...A Principal's View. Retrieved August 02, 2016, from

[P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning]. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2016, from

7 Things You Should Know About Makerspaces. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2016, from

What is the Maker Movement. (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2016, from

What is curriculum innovation and change? (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2016, from

Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2105, Spring). Vygotskian and Post-Vygotskian Views on Children’s Play. American Journal of Play, 7(3). Retrieved August 2, 2016, from

Carey, J., & Hartleb, E. (2016, June 28). Va. High School Student Makes 3-D Printed Hand for Brother. Retrieved August 02, 2016, from

Honeycutt, K. (2016). Making-Inventing & Growing Entrepreneurs. Retrieved August 02, 2016, from

Stories from a School Makerspace, #1 (The Prototype Process). (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2016, from

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Down the 21st Century Rabbit Hole

One thing that frustrates me beyond belief is that we continue to talk about 21st century skills in the year 2016.  We talk about how to prepare our students for 2020.   Ladies and gentlemen, that is 4 years away!

Who remembers this video from 2010:

That was 6 years ago!  Will these innovations exist in the next 4 years?  Probably not.  But the vision will remain.  

We are consistently witnessing major breakthroughs in technology that are changing and shifting our environments.  Devices keep getting smarter.  The world is changing.  Unfortunately, a majority of classrooms still look like this:
Kansai University, Japan, School, Classroom, Inside

Meanwhile the most innovative offices in the world look like this:

Chartboost HQ in San Francisco complete with a dedicated game room with ball pit and giant lego wall

How much farther along would we be if schools became incubators of innovation?  Students don't need to memorize and regurgitate facts.  There's this thing out there called Google.  Need to fix something - go look on YouTube.  

I'm not throwing the baby out with the bath water here.  We need to know the facts that make our world operate in order to dream - but how does worksheet after worksheet make that happen?!

We need to re-think education.  We need to re-think our way of thinking.  We need to remember what it was like to be a kid.  We need to find ways to encourage that kind of creativity in collaborative ways that does not stifle or inhibit forward thinking.  The potential is there.  How will we bring it to the forefront and continue to prepare students for a world that we can only dream of today? 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Preparing for 21st Century Assessment

I read the post and after my stomach stopped churning I started wondering what are we really doing as educators?  We continue to beat the drum talking about change and 21st century learning and yet our methods of assessment continue down a tired and bureaucratic path designed to produce a workforce that is already outdated.  With no disrespect to Shyla Nott or the rest of the fine folks at the Global Educator Institute who really do some fine work, the following is a "tongue-in-cheek" parody (with hopefully a ring of truth) which offers an alternative approach to assessment.  Please do read the original article Classroom Preparations for Testing Season because there is some great advice there to deal with our reality.  But in an alternate universe...

Classroom Preparations for the Real World

It’s that time of the year again–gearing up for publishing student e-portfolios. For months your students have been preparing— creating ways to learn new vocabulary, creating digital posters, designing interactive videos.
You’ve supported them through guided facilitation, collaborative exercises, differentiated instruction, connections with global classrooms and honest encouragement.  Examples of their work are displayed throughout the room and some of it has already been posted to the web.
But now, in anticipation of the year end celebration of learning, it’s time to upload it for the world to see. What stays, and what goes? How will they complete their final edits?

Do a walk-through

Before publication is in full swing, ask your students to evaluate each others final products and discuss digital citizenship and personal branding. Determine as a group what should be shared and why. This will reinforce what made the work authentic and personal while providing an understanding that the work was done and the life lessons it served. This activity should help reinforce certain topics, helping students to remember them for the rest of their lives.
*After publishing, determine as a class what information should be replaced or whether new information is needed for the next class of students.

Promote and encourage sharing of ideas!

Share as much of the students work as possible that may assist future students and allow them to build upon the foundation that has been laid before them.  Here are a few examples that school personnel should consider when preparing for publication:
•    Digital Posters, maps, charts, and displays that define, explain, or illustrate terms or concepts
•    Screencasts of Mathematical formulas/theorems
•    Conceptual mindmaps and storyboards for digital productions
•    Word lists and word clouds of written work to analyze content
•    Recorded On-Air Hangouts
•    Blog posts that have demonstrate understanding of knowledge
•    Videos that displayed process and scientific method
•    Writing formulas

Other considerations

There is no manual for 21st century learning.  Every setting should be different and reflect the needs of that group of students.  Learning environments should be open, adaptable and comfortable.  Noise and interruptions should be frequent and expected. Students should have room to move and collaborate.  Materials should be provided as needed for effective completion of tasks. 

Global-Friendly Displays

There are various ways to display portfolios effectively.  Blogs, Sites, Edmodo groups, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr are all great places to start that will make the students work much easier to find later on.
With just a few changes we can see how alternative assessments like globally published e-portfolios can really demonstrate how we are changing the educational landscape one classroom at a time.

I'm curious.  How do you prepare your classroom for 2025? And how are you assessing your progress?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

What Makes Presentations Pop?

The interactive video above was created using Google On Air Hangout HaikuDeck and EdPuzzle. Sometimes achieving an end goal requires "mashing" a number of different technical resources together. This presentation is a continuation of a session which by year's end I will have conducted for my district, at IETC and at the ICE Conference entitled "Presentations That Pop". Feel free to follow the link and explore the full presentation. I thought the interactive video would be a good review for attendees of those sessions and would also provide me with authentic feedback regarding what participants had garnered from the session. While designed specifically for educators, the content in both the presentation and the video would be appropriate for middle and high school students
I mention a number of resources during the presentation including the mindmap tools and Additionally I reference
which is a wonderful tool that helps create color schemes for presentations, graphic design and website development. This was my first experience creating interactive video and I believe it has a great deal of potential not only as a way to deliver content; but, also as an extremely effective method of formative assessment.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Constructivism and Multiple Intelligence Reflection

Howard Gardner’s work has been an integral part of numerous educational theories since Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences was published in 1983.  I remember my copy in college being full of annotations and highlights because the idea that human knowledge was more than rote memorization appealed to me.  The concept that we have varying levels of ability in each of Gardner’s intelligence classifications explains the need for differentiated instruction perfectly.  In a recent interview with the Huffington Post he stated that “two major educational implications” of Multiple Intelligences are Individuation and Pluralization.  The first suggests we need to address the needs of each specific learner and the second offers a method of accomplishing that goal by presenting the material in a variety of ways. (Lynch, 2012).

It is not surprising that a visionary like Sir Ken Robinson would address the importance of Multiple Intelligences and encourage educators to recognize the child as a whole instead of forcing  the student to conform to a system which typically values Verbal-Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical modalities that can be assessed through standardized testing.  As educators, it is imperative that we encourage, celebrate and accommodate a child’s strengths instead of labeling them as weaknesses when they do not fit the traditional model of learning.

While my current role as a district technology coordinator does not give me daily access to the classroom, the past decade has afforded me a number of opportunities to offer professional development to teachers throughout our district.  I always have music playing as participants arrive.  I have found this strategy can set the tone for a session, activate the senses and heighten linguistic acuity.  I have begun integrating essential questions and discussions into my presentations to provide opportunity for honing both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.  During a recent half day workshop I used a Google extension called Move It to interrupt the presentation at set intervals with a prompt to perform a certain exercise.   This hopefully triggered a response from the bodily-kinesthetic learner who needed to get up occasionally during a 4 hour workshop!  All of this is done in a subtle way to model different techniques they can use in their classrooms.

When I have the opportunity to work directly with students, I provide a number of resources and let them decide on how to express their knowledge.  One of my favorite projects was co-teaching a 10-week digital storytelling unit with at-risk learners.  As we discussed the various stages of creating a digital story, I shared a number of tools from which to choose, which gave them a great deal of autonomy.  Additionally, the students had to take on roles (e.g., production manager, script supervisor, director of photography, etc) which in retrospect allowed them to utilize, explore and expand on pre-existing intelligences.

While these techniques seem to be effective in a traditional environment, I am uncertain they would work in an online or distance learning scenario.   As the article The Influence of Multiple Intelligence Theory on Web-Based Learning states, “little has been done to study MI in the online classroom.” (Riha, 2009)  It would be feasible to tap a number of Gardner’s intelligences in this scenario; however, even with the advent of media, I imagine it would be challenging to incorporate Spatial-Visual, Bodily-Kinesthetic and Musical intelligences within these environments.  My personal experience with this cohort has made me more aware of my intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences.  I have become more adroit at self-reflection and collaboration thanks to the inspiring posts, discussions and projects.  

The concept of constructivism appears to be an extension of differentiated instruction.  I have always felt we need to return to the Socratic approach wherein the instructor asks questions aimed at inciting dialogue allowing “students to realize for themselves the weakness in their thinking” and construct new ideas based on this knowledge. ("Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning")  The 21st century educational design needs to focus more on sparking creative thought, rather than creating lock step curriculum designed for an Industrial Age.  As Socrates may have once said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel” (“Quote Investigator”)

With this in mind, I have found the blog posts from Ewan McIntosh regarding constructivism to be completely engrossing.  The underlying theme seems roughly based on the concept of design thinking which is structured in a way that provides “enough flexibility with enough specificity to ground its ideas in the lives of their intended beneficiaries.” (McIntosh, 2012)  Throughout the posts we see that dialogue, autonomy and facilitation lead to quality innovative work.  I particularly enjoyed the video Designing the Unknown which focuses on C-K theory and demonstrates how an open and Socrative process can allow for pre-existing knowledge to add attributes within a conceptual space and generate many new and innovative ideas.  It seems that constructivism achieves the desired outcome of differentiated instruction without requiring the instructor to provide  a number of approaches to achieve a specific outcome. Instead, wide scale essential and existential questions are asked that help students “know what they didn’t know”. (McIntosh, 2015) allowing for new ideas to develop and evolve.

I believe the concept of constructivism could have major impact on the future of education, provided the institution can get out of it’s own way.  These open and innovative  environments allow the teacher to remove themselves as the “sage on the stage” and instead take on the role of “guide on the side”.  This insures that “collaborative learning is a process of peer interaction that is mediated and structured by the teacher” and generates thinkers as opposed to workers. (“Open Educational Resources of UCD Teaching and Learning, University College Dublin”)  Many of these environments are also often student driven by design.  The challenge then becomes how to evaluate and assess the success of these programs in a standards driven world?  I am hoping to find some of the answers to that question in a session I will be hosting at EdCamp: After Dark  that will explore the idea of a “reThink Thinking and Learning Symposium”.  This is a thought I envisioned while reading Ewan McIntosh’s posts and would be designed and promoted as a day that would bring educators, students, parents and community leaders together for a day of candid discussion about what works and what could be improved upon when it comes to learning.  I cannot wait to see what my colleagues think of this concept!

Lynch, Ed.D. Matthew. "Living Legends: An Interview With Howard Gardner, Part I." The Huffington Post., 09 Jan. 2012. Web. 06 Feb. 2016. <>.

Riha, Mark, and Rebecca A. Robles-PiƱa. "The Influence of Multiple Intelligence Theory on Web-Based Learning." Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 5.1 (2009). Web. 3 Feb. 2016. <>.

"Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning." Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning. Web. 06 Feb. 2016. <>.

"Quote Investigator." Quote Investigator. Web. 07 Feb. 2016. <>.

McIntosh, Ewan. "Design Thinking 2: Immersion - Don't Give Students a Problem to Solve.." Ewan McIntosh | Design Thinking, Education & Learning. 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2016. <>.

McIntosh, Ewan. "Unknown Unknowns. #ungoogleable Thinking for #28daysofwriting." Ewan McIntosh | Design Thinking, Education & Learning. 8 Feb. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016. <>.

"Constructivism and Social Constructivism in the Classroom." Open Educational Resources of UCD Teaching and Learning, University College Dublin. Web. 06 Feb. 2016. <>.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Clark / Kozma Media Debate: A Reflection

As I read Richard E. Clark’s original article “Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media”, I kept wondering what his thoughts would have been regarding the printing press which enabled the first mass produced media in the form of print, created greater access to knowledge “and has been implicated in the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution.” (Dewar, 1998)  I couldn’t figure out if Clark was a luddite opposed to media itself or simply fearful that we would become reliant on media as a tool for content delivery without instructional design.  His contention that it is “not media but variables such as instructional methods that foster learning” (Clark, 1983) certainly suggest the latter.  
Quite honestly, in the late 20th century these were legitimate concerns.  Educators were attracted to the shiny new object in the room.  I witnessed it first hand as a college student during some of my earliest practical classroom experiences and watched students become attracted to the novelty of media delivered content.  I can certainly understand how Clark would state “media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition.”  (Clark, 1983) However, with 21st century learning, media allows students to effectively drive the truck and as content creators have more say in the intellectual payload that is delivered.  
This new reality changes the way knowledge can be acquired and promotes the dynamic and adaptive nature of medias three aspects which Robert Kozma outlines as technology, symbol systems and processing capabilities. (Kozma, 1994)  Although the article, “The Influence of Media on Learning: The Debate Continues” was written in 1994, it was obvious that Kozma had a vision of learning as “an active, constructive, cognitive, and social process by which the learner strategically manages available cognitive, physical, and social resources to create new knowledge by interacting with information in the environment and integrating it with information stored in memory.” (Kozma, 1994)  In essence, the concept of multimedia as an educational tool is much more than minor statistical correlations as Clark would have us believe.  Rather, through multimedia, “students are likely to find many ways to connect their new learning to their existing representations.” (Kozma, 1994)  Today’s students are not only able to manipulate the aspects of media, they are able to design the aspects of media which provides ownership of learning.
I believe there are two schools of thought in today’s educational landscape which have people convinced that media improves learning.  There is the political component that blanketly puts multimedia devices in the hands of students under the misperception that just by providing digital natives with the proper resources, will automatically improve student test scores.  This is the kind of logic thought that plays directly into Clark’s argument and is doomed to failure.  The divergent and likely more accurate theory is that by providing a student with the tools necessary to engage with and create knowledge changes the very structure of education and gives students ownership of their learning.  This requires establishing an environment fostered by forward thinking educators who are willing to facilitate learning through innovative and opportunistic instruction which encourages creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.  
Innovation is often met with resistance and it is vital to employ strategies that shift the public mindset.  The best way to demonstrate the impact and success of using media in education is to promote and publicize what great educators are doing with it in the classroom by publishing student work and demonstrating cognitive success.   Media itself allows us to break down the four walls of our schools and interact in ways previously unimaginable with the world around us.  It is truly an amazing time in education and I hope media will continue to play an integral part of our journey through 21st century learning.  

Dewar, JA. "The Information Age and the Printing Press: Looking Backward to See Ahead." The Information Age and the Printing Press: Looking Backward to See Ahead. Rand, 1998. Web. 02 Feb. 2016. <>.

Clark, R. E. "Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media." Review of Educational Research 53.4 (1983): 445-59. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

Schneider, Daniel K. "The Media Debate." - EduTech Wiki. Web. 01 Feb. 2016. <>.

Kozma, Robert B. "The Influence of Media on Learning: The Debate Continues."SLMQ 22.4 (Summer 1994). Web. 1 Feb. 2016. <>.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

We've Broken Education

I need to climb up on my soapbox for just a moment to vent.  Those of us in the ed-tech world go around touting how great technology is for education.  But guess what?  It's not going to fix a broken system.  The spirit of wonder and learning has been shattered by the need to label, test and standardize.  We celebrate those educators who take risks and step outside the box.  Yet the leaders of education do nothing to explore what makes these individuals unique.  We need a system that is tuned into today's student and their unknown futures.  No Wordle, Animoto or Kahoot is going to fix that.
Say what you want about previous generations, but there was a simpler time when the stakes didn't seem as high.  A time before the digital age, filled with encyclopedias and yes even dioramas, where kids were genuinely curious about what made their world tick.  Now that information is a few clicks and Google searches away.
We need to get back to a time before worksheets.  On one of my kids recent homework assignments, the question was asked "Explain how you divided 12 counters into equal groups" His response was: "I read what the box said" and drew an arrow to the words "Say out loud: 12 divided by 3 is 4" REALLY?! Yet we send these worksheets home every night in the name of Common Core State Standards.  This has got to stop!  We need to cease the practice of providing students with all the answers expecting them to regurgitate knowledge and instead instill that since of wonder that seemingly has disappeared.  We need to stop trying to shoehorn kids into what we think the world needs to be when we have no clue what the world will look like in 10 years?!
So here's my question: How the heck do we do that?  I'll get off my soap box now and wait for your insightful responses.
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