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Archive for October 2010


Full STEAM Ahead:The Power of Play

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato

The world has changed and the financial system seems to be unraveling. Work is definitely changing.  The focus has moved from consumerism to personalization. Instead of supply and demand, it is “what’s in it for me?” and “what can I get that is just for me?” Now that this type of personal on-demand type of system is in place, how does this impact education?

Schools in the US are designed around the industrial model where the teacher is the all-knowing expert delivering instruction to meet the standards and tests. With this model, students are learning the same thing at the same time. If schools are going to produce a new type of worker who can deliver what people need on-demand where they personalize each situation for each user, they will need a different kind of education system than we are delivering now. Students will be active learners designing their own learning environments based on their needs and finding the most creative learning environments that build on their strengths.

Traditional schools create workers who prepare for jobs that are no longer here. These are jobs where workers followed orders and usually had one job for life. Those types of jobs are being outsourced. Students today are going to need critical thinking, problem-solving, and entrepreneurial skills. Most jobs today and in the future will be in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Plus, employers will be looking for creative and innovative people who think on their feet and who have an arts background. The new MBA (Masters of Business Administration) that businesses may be looking for will be the MFA (Masters of Fine Arts). The focus on STEM education will be STEAM. (The A is for Arts)

Look at where consumers are buying products:

  • iTunes downloads of music
  • Apps for free on smartphones
  • Amazon finds other products like the ones you purchased already
  • Netflix lets you stream movies on-demand on your Wii system

This new type of worker means amazing opportunities for people who are creative and innovative. Some people are born creative and think way out of the box. They were the ones that just did not fit in the traditional school model. Schools have to change to make people more creative and innovative. Unfortunately, right now public schools that are losing funding are getting rid of the arts and focusing on testing and memorizing facts. Creative students are leaving these schools. Actually there may be creative students in these schools, but how would you know?

Schools have to change to compete. Virtual schools are providing on-demand teaching so why should students sit in a classroom and be subjected to traditional teaching methods anymore? This is a moral issue. We need to prepare our children for their future.

Play and bringing back joy to learning is what schools have to do to prepare our future citizens. When you are involved in playing a game with your friends, how do you feel? Watch children play and interact with other children. They are fully engaged and probably remember those activities for a long time. Ask a child if they remember the worksheet they filled out last week. Was that fun? Do they remember the answers? Schools need to provide engaging activities that turn students into critical thinkers, researchers, and designers.

Creating games follows the constructionism theory that was defined by Seymour Papert.

“From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product.”

The idea of constructionism is “learning-by-making.” Constructionist learning involves students drawing their own conclusions through creative experimentation and the making of social objects. The constructionist teacher is more of a facilitator assisting students to help one another understand problems in a hands-on way. Some examples of learning-by-making include creating board games, scalable game design, and designing 3-D objects.

Creating Board Games
Bernie Dodge, PhD, teaches Explorative Learning Through Simulation and Games ( Students can playtest their games before they design and submit their board game idea to The Game Crafter where their game can be sold in a professional design on-demand.

Scalable Game Design
AgentSheets [] is a unique software authoring environment where users of all ages can build games, interactive demonstrations, and modifiable simulations using Conversational Programming that makes the computer your programming “buddy.” The computer tells you visually how the game or simulation you are programming is going to act before it runs. The iDREAMS project using AgentSheets has taught over 1200 middle school student to program complete video games and plans to reach over 7,500 students. The program uses the psychological notion of flow to gradually develop design skills that match design challenges. Flow proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is where a  person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Students progress from simple arcade games to games and computational science applications that require sophisticated Artificial Intelligence.

Designing Three-Dimensional Objects
Fab@School uses the constructivist/constructionist approach []  to revolutionize STEM learning by featuring an inquiry and project-based curriculum along with the arts that allows students to create three-dimensional objects – everything from model skyscrapers and bridges to pop-ups, gears, and working mechanisms using a digital fabricator. Students design the objects on a computer and then send it to the fabricator to “print.” When finished, a student has in physical form what they created on the screen.

These are only three ideas of learning-by-making. Now anyone can write, perform, and sell their music, make apps for the iPhone or iPad or Tablet, tell their story digitally, or write and publish their books on Look at teaching entrepreneurial skills as a challenge and an opportunity. Bring play into the picture. For teachers to change to facilitators, it is a good idea to first become players themselves. Teachers need fun also. Consider changing professional development opportunities from Workshops to Playshops. ” To design an instructional game well, you must be both systematic and intuitive, analytic and artistic.

Bring play into the picture. For teachers to change to facilitators, it is a good idea to first become players themselves. Teachers need fun also. Consider changing professional development opportunities from Workshops to Playshops.


Standards vs Creativity

We just added the Common Core Standards to My eCoach. My team is trying to create a vetting process to match standards to projects and resources. After I reviewed the standards, I hit a wall. The Common Core Standards for English/Language Arts were vague in some ways and specific in other ways. I might not be clear here but I had an epiphany about the standards. Since we have all the state standards in My eCoach, I looked at correlations and saw similar issues. State standards are more specific but very little wiggle room for creativity. It is very easy for teachers to say this lesson matches to one or more standards, but this process is something teachers really never learned how to do. Some standards are very specific i.e. Social Studies, Math, and Science content where English Language Arts standards can be very broad.

For teachers’ own professional learning, they can learn how to unpack standards to make the use of standards creatively. Unpacking a standard is the process of identifying what students will know and be able to do when they have mastered the standard. Critical elements to the success of the unpacking process; identifying reliable resources for determining depth and rigor, scaffolding skills with the level above and below using clear and concise language for students.

The ELA 6th grade Common Core writing standard:
. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.

This standard covers so much and can easily be unpacked:

  • the writing process
  • how to use the Internet effectively
  • collaborating with others
  • peer-editing
  • keyboarding skills

However, how do you match to this standard when it covers so much? If you ask a teacher to match to a standard, this one standard can be at least a 6 week unit or many lessons. Parts of this standard could match almost every cross-curricular project where you ask students to write a draft or essay or script. What if a teacher has students practice their keyboarding skills each day for 20 days? Do they match to this standard?

Actually, the teacher has to be creative to figure out how to match to these standards. I browsed the math standards for a standard that would match to practical math — a project about money and life skills. Math teachers will have to be very creative to unpack a standard to find how to make Algebra or Number Sense relevant to real world activities. I’m curious how others find the Common Core Standards compared to their state standards especially math standards. The idea of national standards will help students who move from state to state and make a level playing field for students applying to college. I’m just concerned that some of these standards will be difficult for teachers to choose as an appropriate match for some of their lessons.

This could be a very interesting discussion as we develop professional development, resources, and projects matched to the standards.


Meaningful Professional Development

On Friday October 8th, I was lucky to be invited to help facilitate professional development for Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Over 120 PK-12 teachers worked side-by-side in mixed grade-level groups to experience project-based learning (PBL). This approach requires 21st-century skills: collaboration, creativity, innovation, team work, and critical thinking. 15 Teams  of 8-10 teachers each created public-service announcements (PSA) to raise awareness about Mid-Pacific Institute. Teachers put themselves in the role of learners with a facilitator guiding the process in each team. So how did they do? Read more what Elementary School Principal Edna Hussey wrote about the process.

The team I worked with consisted of MPI’s director of education technology Mark Hines, associate education technology director Bob McIntosh, the three principals, and middle school tech coordinator Brian Grantham where we collaborated several weeks prior to last Friday to  plan the project experience. A meaningful day is effective if everything is planned well. I was so impressed with how the team worked tirelessly to pull everything together. The PSA concept was developed as a project that could be completed by day’s end and which would entail the use of technology already available to the faculty. Check out the details and completed PSAs at

Teachers completed reflections as exit tickets at the end of the day.

I hope that this process will help me consider some of the challenges and rewards that come with building a project so that when I design this sort of thing for my students, I will understand what it’s like to be them.”

I hope to get a better sense of how students think about ‘open-ended’ projects. If I enter with a student’s mindset of being ‘spoon-fed’ what’s required of me, what will work to engage me in this project. Often students feel lost when they get to make too many decisions. I hope to get ideas/techniques for helping students to get engaged.”

There were 15 teams who focused on a theme and developed a driving question and supporting questions about that theme to develop the storyboard and script for the 60-90 second PSA.

“Everyone feels comfortable to share ideas and is respectful and listens to the ideas of others. We have been able to discuss differing ideas and come to consensus. Everyone is open to hearing everyone’s ideas and do what needs to be done to bring the project together. Everyone also seems to understand the importance of the process, not just completing the product.”

The group is communicating very well. I’m proud that people are constructing their ideas based on the communication of a positively critical idea, from a teachers perspective, and for the teachers as an audience, keeping the assignment in mind. When there was a difference in opinion, they chose to go with the more persuasive/engaging idea that invites the audience to think. It is going well because we are focusing on the process, even though the worries of getting the PSA done came up, we acknowledged how this might be a crossroads for students, and how should we proceed.”

We asked teams to pair with another team at the end of the day to share their PSA and reflect on the process. A spokesperson was chosen from each group to share with the whole staff. Everything was so positive. What an amazing group of teachers! Thank you Mid-Pac for including me in a very exciting professional development opportunity!