4TDW Slides … and new ideas from today’s participants about boosting peer interaction

Decorative: Logo for 4T Digital Writing Conference

Do you know about the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing that Delia DeCourcey and the 4T team are bringing to your laptop for free October 11-14? This is a great chance for you to rethink — a la Alan Liu’s Transliteracies Project — about what reading and writing look like in the multimedia digital world.

You can register for the conference now. There’s no charge, and you can get Michigan continuing education credits (SCECHs) at no cost, too! There are many excellent speakers in the conference line-up, including nationally-recognized names like Andrea Zellner, Troy Hicks, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl.

But there are also many fresh perspectives presenting webinars for the first time. This carries on the pledge we made a few years ago for 4TDW’s parent conference, the 4T Virtual Conference to develop instate talent and give great teachers a supportive, ongoing community in which to develop a great webinar. This year’s featured presenters for 4TDW gave up a morning of their vacation for virtual professional development, and I got to share some of my strategies and listen in on their thinking.

My big takeaways:

  • I’m not the only one who thinks webinaring can be anxiety-provoking!
  • From Liz Kolb and others, I learned how to use the whiteboard and its “magic wand” (or, as Blackboard calls it, pointer) to capture information about participants (e.g., click on your grade level; mark where you are on this continuum) and also as a place to consolidate input from participants’ text. Today, watching people put comments about high impact webinar strategies onto the whiteboard using Blackboard’s text tool, I noticed something I had never seen before in webinars: people writing things like, “YES!” next to someone else’s comment. I also saw someone use the magic wand tool to place an icon next to content they valued. What if we gathered comments (as has been done before), then asked people to go back and:
    • vote for the most important ideas we should continue talking about (or prioritize in our ongoing work); and/or
    • respond to someone else’s content?

Thanks to today’s participants for giving me a new way to think about participant interaction with peer content. Now I’m looking forward to my next webinar so I can put those new ideas into play!

Slide deck for today’s talk available here.




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Another sign that the maker movement has gone mainstream …

… is that you can now buy Kickstarter products on Amazon.

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Edutopia on Makerspaces

From “School Makerspaces: Building the Buzz” on the Edutopia site by Blake Auchincloss and Lisa Yokana:

Just because you create a makerspace in your school doesn’t guarantee that your community will embrace it. Students who have had all personal choice removed by traditional educational models can be passive and feel overwhelmed when faced with real-world problems or design challenges. Academic passivity is common in schools where students swallow content and regurgitate it on multiple-choice tests. Students simply want to know how to get the “A” …

Teachers may find the role of facilitator (or “guide on the side”) uncomfortable if they are used to being the “sage on the stage.” New technology in these spaces may be intimidating. Teachers need encouragement and professional development to change their mindsets and become facilitators of learning.

I was glad to see folks raising the issues of buy-in and the cultural contrast between grade-driven culture and makerspaces’ process-oriented one. I’m always supsicious when people tell me their makerspace is just perfect … 

What do you think?

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Noodling about DIY Circuit Blocks as low-cost option for safe, hands-on exploration

When Michigan Makers was in DC in June, we saw the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Circuit Blocks at Capitol Hill Maker Faire and National Maker Faire … now we’re noodling with our Ann Arbor District Library friends about them as possible alternatives to the start-up LittleBits kit or Snap Circuits. Here are some links we’re exploring:

Overview from Children’s Innovation Project

Don’t want to make your own? Buy them.

Circuit Boards at the Exploratorium (different name but same principle)

Posts on circuit blocks from MAKESHOP at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

What do you think? Sound intriguing?







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Must read: “I wonder about the maturity of the Maker Movement”

Wendy Tremayne (author of The Good Life Lab) writes on the Make blog:

Today, I wonder about the maturity of the Maker Movement. The fantastic, sticky explosion that follows the combining of Mentos with Cola might be a necessary entry point to capture the imagination of our children, and maybe we needed to slap batteries on LEDs backed by magnets to enjoy a creative moment of making light art. These tinkering’s could be necessary stages of growth for a generation learning that they can make anything, but then what? I like to consider what my heroes would say of our use of this time in which cheap, accessible, powerful technology is in easy reach. Would Buckminster Fuller enjoy the Mentos show? What would Carl Sagan say of the way we apply our understanding of robotics? Today, new generations are raised without barriers to creativity. Can we show them what value is so that they use their might to grow food and produce clean energy? Can we prepare them to create the social and ecological solutions we need to protect the vitality of the life of the earth? Or will they squander what has been passed on to them? It is up to us. Our kids can become Makers of purpose.

This post comes a day after I asked a colleague, “Are we at the point where any activity, as long as it includes an LED, counts as making, even if it’s prescriptive?” so it resonates deeply with me. I work in the maker movement because I believe it empowers people, and I’m struggling with feeling out-of-step when I find the LED + battery projects thin.

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Making in Advertising: HGTV HOME by Sherwin Williams

I’m fascinated that the “maker” moniker is seeping into popular culture. I’ve written about this before here and here. Here’s the latest I’ve found, from the HGTV HOME paint collection made by Sherwin Williams.

This ad reminds me of the imminent clash I’m anticipated between the original makers (often making/repairing to buck commericalism) and the mainstream movement, like HGTV, the cotton industry, or Chrysler adopting making into their work. The “be bold” portion of the ad, for example, features neutral paint and classic furnishings — not quite the larger-than-life fire-breathing dragons and Mousetrap games of Maker Faire!


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SLJ.com: Annie Murphy Paul on making and learning

Education reporter Annie Murphy Paul has written for School Library Journal’s maker issue on the intertwining of making and learning. It’s worth reading to get a reality check on what past research informs us. If we are to bring making into the formal school day in an era of strict accountability, this question rises in prominence: “If it’s in school, where kids should be learning, what is tinkering getting us?” This question is also bubbling up in some high-level conversations I’ve had lately. After all, on a purely pragmatic level, what incentive is there to funding tinkering for the sake of tinkering?

Some excerpts:

There’s no doubt that students find making to be a creative and engaging activity. But as they tinker, design, and invent, are they actually learning anything?

Making is too young a phenomenon to have generated a broad research base to answer this question. The literature that does exist comes from enthusiastic champions of making, rather than disinterested investigators. But there are two well-established lines of research … that can inform how we understand making and help us ensure that making leads to learning…

I would add that there are probably other areas of past research that we can draw on: arts education, creativity thinking, and self-paced learning, among them.

[C]ognitive load theorists warn that activities that are “self-guided” or “minimally guided” … may not lead to effective learning … Novices are, by definition, not yet knowledgeable enough to make smart choices about which avenues to pursue and which to ignore. Beginners … may also develop new misunderstandings along the way. In all, self-directed maker activities may have students expending a lot of time and effort—and scarce cognitive resources—on activities that don’t help them learn.

Second, cognitive load researchers caution that learning and creating are distinct undertakings, each of which competes with the other for limited mental reserves … Absorbing and thinking about new knowledge imposes a significant cognitive burden… When students are asked to do both at once, they tend to focus on meeting the goal, leaving precious few cognitive resources for the reflection that leads to lasting learning. Student makers may produce a handsome model airplane having no idea what makes it fly. The best way to ensure learning, these researchers maintain, is to provide direct instruction: clear, straightforward explanation, offered before any making has begun …

With three years of maker mentoring under my belt, this makes sense to me, especially when working with students with low threshholds for frustration. With those students, I find myself mentally running through tasks to identify when a demonstration or a few minutes of direct instruction gets them over humps and back on firmer ground. An additional aspect of direct instruction that Paul doesn’t outline here but that bears mentioning is that some maker activities can be unsafe for young makers without direct instruction and supervision. Learning to solder on one’s own may sound like an awesome opportunity for student initiative and agency, but soldering irons operate at extreme heat, so mentor guidance helps ensure safety. In my book, that’s a fair trade-off: I’m willing to sacrifice some temporary agency for safety.

I would also add that teaching building blocks via mini-lessons helps to build the skillset and confidence for individual making. It’s OK, in my book, to demonstrate how a Squishy Circuit works (temporarily adult-driven) if, by in the long run, kids have the basic understanding that will let them go off-roading without us.

A second line of evidence is called productive failure. This research has mostly been carried out by Manu Kapur, a professor at the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and has principally concerned mathematical problem-solving … Kapur gives students a difficult problem without any explanation at all. Working in teams, the students are tasked with devising as many potential solutions as possible. Typically, such students do not arrive at the textbook or “canonical” solution—but instead generate more inventive approaches. Only then does Kapur step in and offer direct instruction on the best way to solve the problem.

I believe this approach is also found in Japanese lesson study.

Kapur has found that presenting problems in this seemingly backwards order helps those students learn more deeply and flexibly than subjects who receive direct instruction … the teams that generated the greatest number of suboptimal solutions—or failed—learned the most from the exercise …

This happens for three reasons, Kapur theorizes. One: Students who do not receive teacher instruction at the outset are forced to rely on their previous knowledge … Two: Because the learners are not given the solution to the problem right away, they are forced to grapple with the deep structure of the problem—an experience that allows them to understand the solution at a more fundamental level when they do finally receive the answer. And three: Learners pay especially close attention when the instructor reveals the correct solution, because they have now thought deeply about the problem but have failed themselves to come up with the correct solution. They’re eager to find out what it might be, and this eagerness makes it more likely that they’ll remember it going forward …

[T]hese two bodies of evidence actually complement each other. Some tasks, like those concerning basic knowledge or skills, are better suited to direct instruction. It may be better to provide explicit instruction on how to operate a 3-D printer, for example, than to have students figure out the directions on their own.

Ha – there’s also a pragmatic thought that comes to mind here … some maker equipment is hardy and can be pushed to its limits again and again without harm. LEGOs, Tinkertoys, and fabric can be endlessly manipulated, assembled, disassembled, and reassembled without falling apart. But … 3D printers have a magical appeal, but some are still finicky in how they get used. Let one kid “just guess” at its function, and you could end up with a broken printer that precludes anyone else from using it. :)

We should tell student makers exactly how to perform straightforward tasks, so that they can devote cognitive resources to more complex operations. Meanwhile, tasks that themselves demand deeper conceptual understanding are likely to benefit from a productive-failure approach …

Once students begin making, we can carefully scaffold their mental activity, allowing them to explore and make choices … within a framework that supports accurate and effective learning … The scaffolding lightens learners’ cognitive load until they can take over more mental tasks themselves. This approach actually dovetails with the apprenticeship model that inspired the maker movement:

Yes! So glad to see apprenticeship pop up in the maker conversation.

students learn to create under the guidance of a master, taking on more responsibility as their skills and confidence grow … they have models to inspect and emulate—again, especially early on, when the mental demands of learning are high…

What do you think?

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Vintage Government Poster: Women at Work

World War II poster encouraging women to work; public domain

Recruiting poster calling women to work during World War II from the Office of War Information.

Public domain image posted by Vintascope; h/t BoingBoing

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YALSA blog: Articulating what has been learned when teens make

Linda Braun writes:

In some instances I think it’s hard for some library staff to articulate the gains that teens make as a result of the making programs we provide. And, as a result it ends up that we talk about the actual printing activity and the printer and not the skills learned and/or improved on. It certainly can be difficult to speak to the learning instead of the “coolness” of the making. But it can be done …

Read her ideas here.

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Video: Three Things to Think About When Starting a Makerspace

Video with maker advice

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