I recently had the amazing opportunity to attend SXSWedu and ever since then, I've had this question rolling around in my head...
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this on!
I was checking out this TedxMidwest about Makerspaces from Jeff Sturges. I'd encourage you to watch the whole thing because it shines a spotlight on his multi-age makerspace based in a church in Detroit. It's great to see how this makerspace has become a central component of the community. A place for people of all ages to come together and learn.
At the 12 minute mark in this video, he starts talking about makerspaces in schools. It echoes everything that I've known to be true about education. When you allow students to be hands-on, when you combine subjects, when you allow student choice, when you allow authentic problem solving, when you listen to what it is that your students are interested in, school starts to become alive. Teachers who have had an "alive" classroom know this.
In my job, I get the opportunity to talk with lots of teachers about lots of topics that fall under creativity, like makerspaces and sketchnotes. I should use the word talk fairly lightly. While I do love to share my passions for creativity and inquiry with others, I like to take on the role of architect to design experiences for teachers to test out their creativity skills where they are the ones doing the talking and sharing. When we often get started, one common response to "Let's start creating!", is "What?!" "No, I'm not creative." Yet, I am an eternal optomist when it comes to creating. I am one of those people that believes that everyone is a creator. Everyone is creative.
Yet, I had this same experience today during a staff meeting. We were asked to translate the main topic from the 2016 Horizons Report into a visual format. Since many of the people in the group know that I've played with sketchnotes, they seemed to assume that I would do the creating. They seemed a bit surprised when I turned to them and said, "Let's all take a word or phrase." And after the initial "What?!" and "I can't" we were on our way!
And the creativity of others never ceases to amaze me! Some of my favorite visualizations were created by other people, I circled a few of my favs. I love the witches' hat representing Wicked Challenges and the glasses tied to Relevance.
Everyone has creativity inside of them. EVERYONE, no one is exempt. They just have to squash that initial gut reaction of thinking that you can't and start saying "I can!" I know that I'm not Sylvia Duckworth, but I love to create and doodle. It makes me happy and gives me a place for the creativity to funnel out of me. So, when you feel words, "I can't" bubble up in your throat, stop yourself short and say "I can!"
When I was teaching, I had heard that it was important to teach students how to code. But, as a teacher, I had no time to wrap my brain around what in the world that meant and what I could possibly do about it. I mean, and this is incredibly ironic, but I never took a computer programming course. Everything that I can do on a computer is completely self-taught learned in the trenches of completing acts that had to be done in the moment where I learned on the fly. However, I am becoming ever more aware of the impact of coding on our future.
This truly is going to be another language that kids are going to need to know how to "speak," read and write. As more and more is automated in life, that line is going to blur more and more. And I was reminded of this just yesterday when I watched a story on my favorite 60 Minutes about Autonomous Drones.
I was truly blown away by this story. Those robots were coded to not only complete a task, but to be able to interact with each other and learn from each's movements. WOW! Understanding code will be important for everyone of all job backgrounds to know and understand how robots work because robots will be everywhere. It may seem like a GIANT leap for some of us, but there are so many great, free coding programs to start with...
As I took a break from work, to breathe and enjoy the newest influencer in my life, my daughter, Stella....
I also reflected on influences in my life.
Most vividly, I remember a unit on Egypt. We discussed how the pyramids were built. We built boats that had to be weight tested in front of the whole school. He taught us about archeology and buried items in our school's long jump pit that we had to unearth and put together clues about the civilization that we had discovered. There was no workbook guiding us. There were hands-on experiences that put us in the role of discovery things for ourselves. It really impacted the way I thought about education.
I'm glad that I Mr. Nichols stepped out of the workbook environment and let us create things as part of our learning. I still remember testing my boat in my kitchen sink. I remember being engaged in the learning process and that learning was more than reading something off of a page. Those are experiences that stick with you!
It first guided me to want to work in a museum to be a part of experiencial education, but then I thought, why can't my classroom me like this? I used that approach towards my classroom designing class projects and lessons around the students taking on roles of ecologists, chemists, or engineers, to simulate real world situations. I allowed students to be hands on in the learning process inspired by my experiences in Mr. Nichols' class. I didn't let the workbook culture that dominated the majority of my learning experiences define my teaching, but the window that Mr. Nichols opened through his teaching style.
I did not take the normal route to teaching. My dad actually strongly discouraged both of his daughters from becoming teachers. He said that this career could not provide a solid future for us. While this may seem incredibly harsh to some, it actually steered both me and my sister to explore other paths and then in some form or another because, we are his stubborn daughters, we both became teachers.
Let me explain.
While we got the talk of you are going to college, because you have to be a college graduate, he made attempts to firmly convince us to choose other paths in life. He had watched my mom struggle to barely be paid anything as a home economics teacher in the early 70s and deal with incredibly disrespectful students who were staging riots at schools because it was the early 70s. He watched as people he grew up with, went on strike at the local school to advocate for higher wages not getting paid while on the picket line or as was common place at the time getting pink slipped at the end of the year. This was not a lifestyle that he wanted for his daughters.
He encouraged us to follow any other path we wanted. And you know what, it was the best advice he could have given us. We both followed paths of communication. My sister with marketing and myself with public relations and journalism. We learned about understanding your audience and tailoring messages to help people inform people to make better decisions. We learned about cutting through the fluff and focusing on what's important because time is of the essence. We learned about bias and making ethical choices. We learned about putting your best foot forward and the importance of telling your story in the tone and voice that you want to come across.
If you look at educational trends today, teachers today are being asked to:
The new skills of marketing and business are qualities that students today will need to embody to be able to navigate the world ahead. Methods like problem based learning and STEM encourage students to think about the audience for whom they are creating solutions. We are asking these students to be mini-business owners and entrepreneurs promoting and sharing their ideas with the world.
Do teachers today have enough background in marketing and business to create experiences for their students to practice?
I have been thinking about several communication lanes that have changed as a result of technological advances:
Two years ago, I stumbled upon a blog from EdSurge about makerspaces that changed the entire way that I felt about how to plan for a makerspace. It is brilliant, and I highly recommend that you check it out - 6 Things to Consider Before Starting Your Makerspace by Parker Thomas (@fpthomas).
I have shared this article so many times with different educators and admin that my co-workers literally refer to it as Amber's article :) But all props go to @fpthomas. The part that I love so much is that it requires you to truly think about your culture and how your culture will impact your students' experience in the makerspace. Unfortunately in education, we have to reverse engineer this process. Our admin will come in and say, I got a small bit of money, you can spend it on your makerspace idea, but you need to spend it by Friday. Or I saw this at a conference and decided to buy these robots...here you go, use them! The stuff tends to be the focus and the thing that everyone wants to jump into. What's the price point? How much will this cost? And educators have stuff or make very quick decisions about what to get, but are not sure if their students will be interested in it.
What we really need to ask ourselves is, what do we want our students to be doing? How are we going to support our students' interests? A makerspace doesn't have to be filled with tons of expensive equipment. A makerspace needs to be filled with objects that support that school's students. Many things can be donated or come from recycling. I truly believe that no matter the age group, cardboard should be a makerspace staple. There are even schools that are adding cheap/free makerspace supplies to their back to school lists. Check out this makerspace back-to-school list from Farnhamville Iowa. They've even added in an Amazon Wish list - who doesn't love 2 Day Shipping with Prime!
Educating the parents and community about what you are doing is always a great first step for support. Many community members are eager to support their schools. Just let them know what you are doing. That would be the 7th Consideration for starting a makerspace that I would add to Parker's fantastic article. How will you share with the community what you are doing?
At the beginning of last school year, I was challenged to choose just one word to help define my upcoming year. I chose the word visualize for two reasons. First, I visual learning has been a strength of mine. Throughout my schooling, when asked to recall information, I could simply close my eyes and picture what I needed to, whether it's a still picture, a website, or a frame from a video. I don't have a photographic memory, but I can often pull in those images from somewhere deep in my brain when needed.
I know that even though this is a strength of mine, I haven't been the best at sharing what I'm picturing and connecting. In my job as an edtech consultant, I need to share, share, and share some more to help educators get a leg up in the ever-changing world of educational technology. So, what I decided to explore this year is the practice that is now known as sketchnoting. Little did I know 5 years ago, I was sketchnoting. I didn't call it sketchnoting, I called it visual notes, but I was sketchnoting.
And more important I was offering and sharing this as a learning option with my students. I encouraged students to take notes over a reading in the way that made the most sense to them. Some students took Cornell Notes (something I had shared earlier in the year), some students took vocabulary style notes, some did video reflections and some students took, what I was calling at the time, visual notes. I worked specifically with this group of students and we would read together, then stop at certain points and draw something that would help us to remember what we read. It didn't have to be the same thing, just something that would work for each individual person. I liked I could see the students' personalities and the different ways that students would make connections.
Here's a random collection of sketchnotes that I created this past year....