This week we were asked to put our “maker” thinking caps on and become creators this week. I struggled at first with this concept because while I fully and completely support the maker movement in the classroom, I do not generally think of myself as a creative person, or one who “makes”. I found it hard this week to examine my own abilities and realize that if I struggle to see myself as a “maker” then how can I expect my students to jump on board with the process. Therefore I decided to seek out a few colleagues to help me generate some ideas on what I could “make” that would answer my guiding inquiry question, which is, “How can I connect my STEM knowledge and my Connected Learning knowledge together in a meaningful way?” In talking with my STEM colleagues it became clear that I could get my students to be makers, but allowing them time, through a STEM challenge, to actually make!
So this week I created a lesson plan for a design challenge in which my students could create a final product that solved a problem, and share their ideas with another class in our district (our pen pal class) who is going to do the same challenge. I uploaded the documents for the lesson plan and attached them to this post, but basically here is the design challenge in a nutshell:
We are in the middle of a physics unit in class, talking all about motion and forces. So students were given a “marble madness” design challenge in which they had to get a marble to travel at the slowest speed possible down a self-created ramp. Students were expected to build the ramp out of various supplies, including, index cards, masking tape, cotton balls, paper towels, squares of sand paper and tissues. The key idea that students will have to play with is speed = distance/time. So students ramps might not be very long, but if the marble moved slow enough over that short distance, the group could still be successful.
I think this fits well into the idea of a “maker” classroom because it allows students to create their own designs and ideas, while learning about important concepts such as failure and resilience. I loved Jason Seller’s mantra from Chapter 4 of Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, “Remember, check with a classmate…before asking me for help. You learn from making mistakes and troubleshooting. Your brain stops working when I give you the answer!” I know when I do this lesson I will have students consistently asking me for the “right” answer or whether or not their designs are “good”. What I want to instill in them with this lesson is that there is no one “right” answer and that their brains need to do the work, try and fail, before they can be successful in their own way. It will be hard for me not to critique my students, or give them subtle nudges towards what I think would be a better design, but as Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom says, “an important dimension of a production-centered classroom that requires further examination is the role of the teacher in facilitating an optimal learning environment.” I really have to rethink my role as the teacher in the classroom as not just the person with all the answers, but rather the facilitator of learning independently. In a lesson such as the one I created, my students should ideally learn on their own as I act as a guide and a sounding board for that learning.
In terms of making this learning of my students more “connected” I got in touch with our pen pal class from another building in the district (also a 5th grade class) and we decided to do the lesson together. Students will share their designs and data on GoogleDrive with their pen-pals. I think the students will really enjoy sharing their designs with a larger audience as they will see their learning as more purposeful. Students will also be expected to comment on the designs of their pen pals, thinking about what was successful about their pen pal’s designs, but also what elements could be improved for the future. I think this will help to create equity within the classroom because all students will have a chance to share their thoughts with others and all students will be getting constructive feedback on their designs, proving that there is no “right” solution, and that all designs could be improved in some way. As it says in Chapter 4 of Teaching in The Connected Learning Classroom, students need a “definitive purpose for their production, while creating an audience for their work beyond the classroom.” I think allowing students to share their work with their pen pal class will create a larger audience for my students, and make their work more purposeful and thoughtful in the end.
Documents for the Design Challenge: