The Story in the Making...
I had the opportunity of co-facilitating two separate maker activities. The first activity was the actual maker activity at a middle school while the second activity was the building up to a maker project at the same school. I really enjoyed being able to collaborate with colleagues for both activities. I wrote about my MakerEdorg Maker vista before but never called him by name. His name is Matt. I work with Matt on a weekly basis trying to find ways of implementing maker activities at the school we both support. The second colleague on this occasion is the actual teacher of the class. She was totally willing to try a new hands on activity to support her students. I’ll talk about my learning from both instances separately.
The Learning from Circuit building
Matt shared this activity of creating circuits using an LED light and copper tape http://bit.ly/1ZXeYTr to me right before Christmas break. He used the Christmas break to look over the project and I helped him facilitate a maker activity at the Challengers Boy’s and Girl’s club (Challengers) out here in Los Angeles. The ultimate objective for the activity was for students to make their drawing light up. We did this activity first at Challengers and repeated the activity at a middle school.
We learned some very impactful information from working with the students at Challengers. We learned that the students needed to first learn how to complete the circuit before incorporating the circuit into their drawing. In working with the Challenger students, we had the students try to incorporate the circuit into their pictures before they learned how to connect the circuit. We essentially had the students do 2 things at once which increased their cognitive load. The students had to learn how to connect the circuit and they had to learn how to incorporate the circuit into their drawing. The second time we did the activity we made adjustments based on our learning. The students learned how to complete a circuit first followed by incorporating the circuit into their drawing.
There were some interesting findings from this activity based on our adjustment. The changes we made from the learning at Challenger activity made the difference in what happened at the middle school. All but two students during the middle school activity were able to complete the circuit on their own. Those that were having challenges were able to learn vicariously from their classmates to get the LED to light. We did less direct guidance with the middle school students. Conversely, we had very little collaboration at Challengers. Only 1 student was able to complete the circuit on her own and we had to work closely with the other students to make them successful. Both sets of students were able to discuss currents and positive and negative sides of the battery and how they corresponded with the LED leads.
Breaking the making activities into mini challenges can be benefical to a successful making activity. The paper circuit activity was implemented as 2 mini challenges to aid in the bigger third challenge. The first mini challenge was for students to make the LED light up with direct contact with a battery. Students figured out how to make the LED light pretty quickly and we were able to ask follow up questions. Students learned the LED lighting had to do with matching the positive and negative sides of the battery with the LED leads.
The second mini challenge was making the LED light up without direct contact with the battery and using copper tape. This activity took the students some time. The students needed to transfer what they learned from the first mini challenge to the second mini challenge. The students learned that the copper tape needed to connect the positive and negative side of the battery to the positive and negative leads of the LED. Like I said previously, the students were able to learn how to make this work from one another. We purposefully didn’t not answer any questions and asked students to look to other successful students.
The third challenge forced students to apply their learning from the first two challenges and make a piece of their artwork light up for the third challenge. I think chunking the challenges in this fashion made the learning more attainable and lowered the cognitive load of learning about circuits. As a result, students learned from one another and were able to add lights to their drawings using the science. Whenever a teacher is going to implement a maker activity, one option is to break the activities into smaller challenges that connect to a larger challenge so students transfer their learning effectively.
Figure 1: Student artwork from Paper Circuit Making
Making with Erosion
The second activity involved a collaboration I have with a classroom teacher. We discussed her bringing a maker activity into her class and we planned this activity for two weeks. I discussed her having a very open ended question for the students and allowing them choice in which erosion section the students were going to investigate. My first learning was the importance of having an open ended question. The teacher in me wanted to scaffold the entire process, but allowing students to grapple with an open ended question is where the learning happens. Students came up with very unique designs and that was all a product of their collaboration and autonomy they had with picking their projects.
Figure 2: Examples of student created structures
The teacher was hesitant at giving students autonomy of picking their own topics to research. The thinking was students may choose easier topics over more difficult topics. The teacher decided to let the students pick their topics based on interest and was surprised that the numbers actually worked out. There were equal amounts of students in each section and the teacher made teams. This autonomy by the students leads to the next learning for me. Students were invested and engaged in the process because of the autonomy of picking what they were going to learn. The students were also engaged because of the autonomous groups they chose for the challenge.
The student’s engagement was seen during the research phase. The teacher had the students read about their erosion using a strategy called “Say Something”. Say something is a strategy where a paragraph is read and the student’s partner said anything that resonated about the passage. Before the students read, they were given the challenge of making an invention that would withstand the erosion they were researching. I believe challenge gave the students rationale behind why they were reading the passage. This is where my next learning occurred. Once the students were in their groups, all 18 students in the room were engaged in the reading because of they were able to pick their teams in essence. I even sat in with a group and as able to say something as well. The groups were discussing what notes should be taken and who would be the next student reading. In all, student’s received rationale for their classwork and they were working as a team for a greater cause. This rationale lead to more engagement with the task.
The evidence I saw to the effectiveness of this activity was all of the engagement in the reading. All 18 students were reading in their groups. I also saw students taking notes and discussing what kinds of notes to take and what important information to jot down. We haven’t completed the maker activity but the preparation to it has given some great classroom management practices and engagement with the content. We know that students that are engaged learn more. I’m interested to know what will happen when the students begin constructing their designs and what learning comes from it.
Connections between both activities
Each of the maker activities outlined were different. However, both activities forced students to transfer information and from new schema. In the paper circuit activity, students had to transfer their learning from one mini challenge to the next, new mini challenge. The erosion activity made students transfer the information from their reading to their actual designs. This transfer process is important in learning because the transfer allows students to take the learning from one situation and apply it in a new context. Having to apply the learning to a new situation allowed students to show their mastery of the content.
The second connection comes with the need to collaborate. It is very tempting for teachers to control every aspect of the learning environment. By releasing the control of the learning to students, students must rely on collaborating with other classmates and not just relying on their teachers. When we think about 21st century skills, being able to collaborate is an important skill. It is also important that students learn how to use multiple resources for their learning and not just the classroom teacher. It is a difficult shift for classroom teachers to release control but one that will be beneficial for learners.