Learning From Erosion Making
I’ve been on a maker ed write fest for the past few blogs. I started talking about an erosion maker activity in an earlier blog and this blog I’m going to reflect on that activity. A few things I’m noticing in general is how much engagement I’m seeing from students in these activities. The group that I worked with was a fairly large. The teacher recently received some extra students so her class was 36 students strong. She was very apprehensive about working with these students because of the size but I talked her into it. Of all of the students in the class, only 1 group of three girls were not engaged. I was able to talk to that group about their lack of engagement and they were very upfront about their performance with me. They were upset because they didn’t have enough materials so they did nothing. The second day I worked with this class was very different in terms of these young lady's performance. They were fully engaged and I made it a point to highlight their level of engagement. This leads me to my first piece of learning. Students may have low self-efficacy when making (and school in general) and may need to see their own mastery or verbal persuasion from others to get them on track. Encouraging words go a long way with our students specifically students that don’t normally see success in Math and Science classes.
An important aspect of this making activity was creating an open ended question based on content. I keep repeating this but it is so important that teachers release control of the learning to the students. Releasing the learning to the students gives them a sense of buy in with all of the tasks associated with the making. I saw students actually engaging in their reading assignments because of their ownership. The teacher commented that she heard real solutions from students that have never participated in her class. That’s a very powerful statement. Those students that never get a chance to participate in class now have an opportunity to give input on an important class activity. How might this impact these student’s self-efficacy and self-confidence in science classes?
The teacher had the students present their structures to their classmates. I was unable to see the first set of presentations. I came a second day to see the remaining students present. The students were so excited about their work that the first set of students wanted to present their structures a second time. The willingness for students to present their structures again speaks to the ownership that students had when building their structures. This leads to my next learning about this process. Having a well-crafted problem is everything. This may be intuitive, but the problem should make the students use the science to develop their solutions. The problem, of course, should have no definite solution and include science content. The solution should also allow student autonomy to craft their solutions. The solution is whatever technology the students develop. Students will attribute their success in creating their technologies to their own work and collaboration and not external factors.
It is important that we tie making activities to content and standards that students must learn. Some of my colleagues may push back on the idea of combining standards with making and design thinking. The reality is schools and district have to figure out a way to assess learning of standards through making. Standards are a part of the k-12 landscape. If we can combine the standards with the making and design thinking, I believe making and design thinking can be very practical in all situations.
This leads me to my next point. There has to be a way to assess the making. How do we know that the students are learning the science? They may create great structures, but still have misconceptions about the science. The teacher I worked with today created a reflection sheet for the students. This reflection sheet may be a tool that allows us to measure the learning. I took a look at the reflection sheet and was able to assess how much of the erosion students learned. Students seemed to have learned their specific erosion but had a hard time reflecting on the other types of erosion. That may be okay based on the objective for the learning. This misconception can also be a point to reteach parts of the unit that were misunderstood.
Other possible pieces of evidence for learning might be the structures themselves. In order to assess the structures, teachers would need to include some kind of rubric for the building. I like including design challenges because the ultimate assessment is really whether the student’s design stood up to the challenge. I think we’ll be in good shape if we can get to a point where students are creating designs and testing them as part of their grade. It's a win-win situation for the students. If your final design passes the challenge you pass. If your final design doesn’t pass the challenge, you continue to work on it until it does. Then all of the work you are assigning the student has a perceived value to the end product.