Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Making ELA Through The Community Project

-written by Mary Kendrick

My interest in “make” was sparked by a week-long “Making” Teacher Research Institute hosted by the UNC-Charlotte Writing Project. During this week, a group of teacher-consultants came together to explore questions such as “What is a ‘make’?” and “What does the maker movement have to do with writing and teaching?”.  Most of our learning was experiential. We wrote six-word memoirs on quilt squares, played with paper circuitry, made stop-motion videos with Legos and Playdough, and tinkered with web-based tools to create cartoons, movies, memes and avatars. I found “make” intensely engaging--it was hands-on, playful, invited exploration and experimentation, and made me take creative risks outside my comfort zone.  So, when teachers at my school were invited to participate in the Educator Innovator project “Making our Worlds”, I was excited to bring “make” into our ELA classrooms.

While “making” is more commonly associated with STEM courses, ELA and “make” are also a natural pairing; the “making” process has much in common with the writing process, and ELA teachers are no strangers to hands-on, creative projects. That being said, when looking for ways to integrate “make” into lessons, we wanted to be sure that our activities were true “makes”. ELA projects are often highly-structured and teacher-directed, with detailed lists of requirements, step-by-step instructions, and prescriptive rubrics describing what a “successful” outcome looks like. A true making experience is open-ended, has no pre-defined outcomes, offers participants a variety of mediums and materials to choose from, is interest-driven, and includes little to no instructions about how to do anything -- we wanted to incorporate as much of the “making” ethos as possible, while also using “make” in purposeful ways that accomplished ELA curricular objectives.

We achieved this goal in 8th grade ELA when students participated in the Community Project Make. Our school is an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP); the culminating MYP experience is the 8th grade Community Project, which our 8th graders complete in ELA. In this project, students investigate a community issue and take action on that issue. The Community Project Make happened at a crucial stage in the project--students had identified their topics and done some research, but hadn’t planned how they’d take action. We used the community project as way to help them crystallize their thinking on the issue and play with what it meant to take action.

On our make day, we set up four make stations in the room -- 3D poetry, black-out poetry, card-board badges, and stop-motion animation. Before students began making, we asked them to reflect for a few minutes on what they’d learned so far and what they were thinking and feeling about their community issue. We then set them to a very simple task: Make something that sends a message about your topic. After a quick overview of the make stations, we let them loose in the makerspace to begin experimenting with how they could use the materials at hand to communicate their opinions. Students eagerly dug into the materials, creating makes that expressed their stances on issues such as cutting, homelessness, literacy, and healthy living: a bleeding and bandaged hand with the message “Scars Will Last”, a pop-up poem that began with the line “Keeping your money just to yourself does not make you powerful”, a cardboard and tape badge supporting youth sports declaring “Let us Play!”, and a stop-motion video depicting how books bring happiness.

As students’ worked, I was heartened to see them enlivened by making in much the same way that I had been. They were focused and engaged as they worked, collaborating easily and naturally with each other. They were happy to experiment and test out ideas and didn’t hesitate to revise and remake when first attempts didn’t work out. Students who often struggled to stay focused on reading and writing tasks were completely on-task in an environment that was hands-on and allowed for movement and conversation. English language learners and special education students thrived as well. Several novice English speakers chose to use Spanish in their makes, while a special education student who struggled to express herself in writing was able to communicate her thoughts on girls’ distorted body images with a 3D cardboard sculpture.  Of course, there were a few students who found the experience challenging: they couldn’t settle on any particular make, and left half-finished makes all around the room, tinkering uncertainly with the materials at hand. Some high achievers, accustomed to easy perfection with traditional academic tasks, experienced frustration when asked to do something with no clear directions or set parameters. Yet, even these students were able to leave feeling they’d accomplished something because the Community Project Make wasn’t focused exclusively on the product--engaging in the process and taking risks  were just as important, and even the students who struggled and been open to trying and left the room with a make in hand.

The Community Project Make was also a productive learning experience that effectively moved students into the next stage of their projects--writing a plan and putting that plan into action. Creating makes that sent a message helped students focus on the things that mattered the most to them, which in turn helped them develop the goals of their projects and decide how they would make a difference.  

In reflecting on the Community Project Make for this piece, I realized that what made the make especially useful, was that it wasn’t an add-on--it was an integral part of the students’ process. It helped them think through where they stood on their topics and took the place of more traditional ELA activities that we could’ve assigned students, such as creating an outline or completing an idea web. This ELA make let students experience true agency as the made choices, accessed their own voices, and expressed truly personal interpretations through their work.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Me with me--Making STEAM Episodes

In this series of hangouts, educators participating in the Intersections project met digitally to engage in a make-experience together. Each video consists of a brief overview of the make, and then time spent making and talking, as educators discuss what they learn through the process and how such a project might play out in their classroom.

Making STEAM Episode 1: Interdisciplinary Learning through Cardboard Cities

Making STEAM Episode 2: Boundaries in STEAM with Stopmotion Video

Making STEAM Episode 3: The Science of Translation through a Textile Make

Make with me--Making STEAM Episode series

In this series of hangouts, educators participating in the Intersections project met digitally to engage in a make-experience together. Each video consists of a brief overview of the make, and then time spent making and talking, as educators discuss what they learn through the process and how such a project might play out in their classroom.

Making STEAM Episode 1: Interdisciplinary Learning through Cardboard Cities

Making STEAM Episode 2: Boundaries in STEAM with Stopmotion Video

Making STEAM Episode 3: The Science of Translation through a Textile Make

Supporting student dialogue in our online community of makers

The Intersections Charlotte project brought together students and teachers from different area schools with Educators from Discovery Place to engage in student-driven make-based work at  each
of the respective sites. The Making STEAM Google+ community was born out of the necessity to to keep all parties connected through the entire process. It was a place for students to post not just their finished makes, but also work in progress, reflections, and responses to the ideas of others. It was a place for sharing, for conversation, and for inspiration.

While students were familiar with operating in social networks in their own lives, there was a bit of a learning curve (for both students and teachers) in discovering how to make this site work in a way that both invited students ownership and and rich feedback on student work. Hitting the +1 button or leaving a comment like “good job” doesn’t give the maker much insight into how his or her production worked in the mind of of the person who was viewing it. This sort of feedback required students to have some specific ways of responding that were open-ended, promoted a conversation, and developed scientific habits of mind that are cultivated through conversation and iteration.

As much as making isn’t a fill-in-the blank sort of venture, having some frames for students to refer back to when responding helped to get them feeling what it was like to see their comments as an important part of a conversation.

Here is a slide Steve used in his class during time set aside for reading and responding to the work in the community:

Below is a a post made by Levar showing a stop motion video he created inspired by the Hunger Games, but taking place in a setting he made from cardboard character that were repurposed army figurines:

Screenshot 2016-10-15 at 3.58.55 PM.png

The post elicited 19 comments where viewers and LeVar exchanged ideas. Here is a piece of that conversation:
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In this conversation that includes students, LeVar’s teacher Steve, and Robert from Discovery place, the feedback posed prompted LeVar to clarify and even provided ideas for future interactions. It all worked to bring in other people as thinking partners and keep LeVar moving forward in his own process.

Making across content, composing cardboard cities

Cardboard is the ultimate make material. It’s cheap (or FREE...there’s usually plenty of it piled by the recycling bin behind any school), sturdy, and relatively easy to work with if you have a good cutting tool and some tape or glue. This post tells how a language arts and science teacher collaborated to create a make-based learning experience inspired by content in both of their classes and built with…..cardboard!

For this make, students drew upon the setting and novels they were reading in language arts and their learning about sustainability in science class to construct cardboard cities.  For language arts, students participating in books clubs, where students read in small groups a novel with a group of their classmates and regularly completed literacy-related mini-lessons and group discussions.  The novels, 20 or so in all, spanned in genre from biography to dystopian fiction, but fit thematically into the unit being taught, which focused on responding to injustice.  

In science, Tiffany was teaching an earth science unit on natural resources, with content and discussions focused on constructing a conceptual understanding of sustainability in the world today. The setting and events of the novels would serve as starting places for the cites’ construction, and the decisions students made while constructing them would be made through the lense of sustainability.  

City planning and hacking the school day
Students in one of Steve’s classes (perhaps considering what they had learned about sustainability with Tiffany) raised the concern that there would not be enough space for 20 cardboard cities to be built and suggested that groups build collaboratively. With a bit more discussion and negotiation, both the teachers and students settled on the idea that groups would add to one of four cities depending on the time period their novel took place, thus giving rise to the Historic City, Modern Urban City, Modern Suburban City, and Future City.  

In planning how to organize this make, Steve and Tiffany (as well as their students) felt like one hour a day was nowhere near enough to really dig into a make, and Steve and Tiffany wanted the make to be inspired by more than just a single entry point from their class content; rather, they hoped to see what students made and the content of their classes serve complementary purposes that deepened over a period of time. The solution they decided on was a make that took place over the course of five weeks, with one day per week being devoted to making.  On this day, during the time that students had ELA and Science, they would go to the room where their city in progress was located. Two were in Tiffany’s room, and two were in Steve’s.

Supporting the making and iterative process

Sometimes students would continue right where the left off, but other times students would consider the new events that they had encountered in their novels or new concepts that had been introduced in science during the week since they had last worked on the structure and use this knowledge to revise what they had been working on.  It wasn’t just the new content students had to consider, though. Steve and Tiffany introduced new materials and possibilities into the makerspace each week. The foundational materials students needed to construct (cardboard, scissors, glue) were always on hand, but over the course of the make students also were invited to paint, add working circuits to light LEDs, and also to use their cities as settings for stop motion videos.

Read more about the project and what students thought about it in the article from a local newspaper below:


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Integrating "Make" into the Curriculum; Navigating and Altering the Linguistic Net - By Tony Iannone

My first “real” attempt to bring the concept of “make” into my 4th grade classroom came as a result of my involvement in the Intersections Project. In collaboration with my Discovery Place thinking partners I devised a culminating project my students would engage in as they finished a Science unit on Nutrition. Prior to my involvement in this project I questioned whether or not the informal, authentic process of “thinking like science expert” that my Discovery Place partners brought to our collaboration would mesh with the more formalized manner that science is taught in schools. It is easy to understand why pressure coming from things like curriculum guides could complicate the manner in which “makes” find their way into public school classrooms. The language of a curriculum guide includes standards, objectives, and descriptions of activities; literally spelling out what is supposed to be done relevant to the content it was created for. Over time, this language can place a sort of linguistic net over the rich experiences of students during MAKE cycles. This net (a systemic construct that is neither malicious nor benevolent) through language, ends up determining what is a learning experience, how students grow, and finally what learning looks like at any given moment in our classrooms so as to report out to the world the kind of learning that is taking place. This resource seeks to construct something different, an image of possibility for educators, leaning on what might, at first glance, seem familiar (how a teacher could navigate her way through an upper elementary Nutrition unit), when it comes to considering the ways in which “make” finds its way into our classrooms. As we move forward, cultivating our own images of what is possible, reflecting about them with our students and each other, we can begin to speak back, maybe even re-define the systemic construct mentioned above.

The Nutrition Make

Prior to the project the students participated in several experiences, some traditional, some quite unique given the formal setting of the classroom. The traditional experiences included reading information related to nutrition in their Science textbooks and taking notes about the readings. One unique experience involved getting the students to learn about how much fat and sugar is in a typical fast food meal; thanks to a really exciting, interactive lesson my Discovery Place thinking partners led with the class. The informal (social) nature of this experience; hypothesizing, measuring, recording, thinking, discussing, and reporting out seemed very far away from the more formal (isolated) approaches where students would read and answer questions about that reading. To say this experience was met with high levels of joy and enthusiasm from my students is a mere understatement!

We had the students reflect, in their notebooks, about what they were learning and how change (defined in this case as the choices one makes regarding his/her dietary choices) can be positive or negative.

Choosing to layer the theme of change over the standards and objectives for the Nutrition unit was a decision we made prior to the beginning of the school year while planning with together. We were looking for a way to bring some critical thinking and complexity into an otherwise standard science unit. We wanted the students to be able to "bridge" what they were learning in science and literacy in a somewhat sophisticated fashion. Interdisciplinary thematic instruction includes taking large scale themes, like change, and generalizations like "Change can be positive or negative;" layering both over the curriculum so that students can use the content, (the Nutrition unit in this case)  to prove or disprove the generalization while learning something new about the theme. As the Nutrition unit came to a close we wanted the students to engage in a “make” that would enable them to “mine” the experiences, reflections, and ideas related to change they had engaged in. Why might you ask was this “make” integral to the overall experience?

Why it Matters!

One of the tenants of “make” is that it, “invites students to make things with words, with natural and manmade materials, and with their ideas of how to make their worlds.”  We proposed the following to the students; create a collage, using images and text from magazines, art supplies (pipe-cleaners, glitter, ribbon, stickers, construction paper, markers, colored pencils, etc.) to “make” a representation of concepts learned throughout the unit. The collage also had to show evidence of the generalization “Change can be positive or negative.” By participating in this “make” students were in essence re-presenting their understanding of a concept (nutrition) that had been presented to them throughout the unit; they were “making” new and unique images of what nutrition meant to them. Being asked to re-present your understanding is different than being asked to re-produce what has been presented to you. Re-presenting implies you are capable of being creative both textually (with language) and concretely (with materials) you have at your disposal. Re-presenting implies that from this creativity, you have something important to say. Re-presenting implies that what you have to say should be shared, with others as you engage in “making your world.”

Another important tenant regarding the concept of  “make” played itself out during this culminating project. Make, “use[s] content specific to a grade levels' course of study and [is] literacy rich, asking students and teachers to share, reflect, loop back, remake, revise, remix, and connect with others.” The content specific to my students’ grade level was nutrition. The content was literacy rich in that I pulled material from the students’ textbooks, trade-books, as well as online materials. Throughout the project we shared ideas with each other as the students planned what to include in their collages. Typically there is not space for sharing, reflecting, looping back, remaking, revising, remixing and connecting within the confines of formal learning. Skype chats, Google Hangouts, real-time, in person meetings with both my thinking partners from Discovery Place and my National Writing Project colleagues helped me facilitate this informal, authentic, and crucial component to the culminating project.

Typically, due to the linguistic, systemic net that is cast over teaching and learning, teachers are supposed to present content, students are supposed to receive it, then reproduce it in the form of some kind of standardized, formative assessment meant to measure what was received. Working against from within this “net,” the students looped back to the literature/content (they received) as well as the notes they had taken, not to reproduce what they received, but to put their collages together in an attempt to ensure that what they were “making” was a re-presentation of what they had learned.

Here is an example of student’s MAKE...a re-presentation of what was learned...

This student’s collage focuses on what she learned during the Nutrition unit. She has arranged what she has learned about food into 2 categories, foods that are healthy and “junk food.” What sets this MAKE apart from others is an integration of the theme and generalizations explored over the course of the unit. This is evidenced strategically around the outside of her collage. Most notably, the student placed the theme at the top and bottom of the collage. The generalizations; “Change can be positive or negative” and “Change can be person-made or natural can be found on the left and right of the collage. A closer look at her writing (see  the index cards) reveals that these thoughts about change are not just placed there “for show.” She encourages her viewer to think about her placement of the words and phrases and why thinking about food this way “should motivate you to eat healthy” and “not eat junk food all the time.” Her classmates acknowledge the intent of her work (as evidenced through the 3 sticky notes) showing that her message resonates with them. The results of my student’s efforts may not necessarily be measured via standardized testing...but (as witnessed in the example) are equally important in order for children to re-imagine what is possible from their position as student learners engaged in JOYFUL learning experiences!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Eighteenth Century Theme Parks - By Sally Griffin

The students in my high school senior English class have pretty much sunk into the routine of high school: write the paper get the grade, do the homework and get the grade, take the test and get the grade.  They don't necessarily look for anything exciting; but are surprised when it occurs.  My students were particularly surprised and delighted when they were asked to discuss the damage the trash that we accumulate could be doing to our earth and then were asked to describe some things we could do to change that.  That is how our "maker faires" in our classroom began.

One of the most difficult units for my students to grasp is the literature of the eighteenth century.  The reading is tedious for them and they often just don't do it. But the eighteenth century is full of inventions (the age of enlightenment), new writing genres, satire, and discovery of self.  It also marks a time when people came to see the human being as distinct from nature. Suddenly the earth was less important than what man could create even if it meant destruction of the earth.  This became a concern for the class as we moved through the fiction and nonfiction of the period.  My classroom was filling up with recyclables (in our own humble attempt to save the earth).  The students loved the idea of using up the recyclables to build theme parks that would reflect what they had learned about the eighteenth century.  Many of them were taking physics or biology and were anxious to incorporate ideas from those classes into their English class.  The first year we made theme parks, they were somewhat elaborate (depending on the particular group's understanding of the literature) but always creative.  The next year, I upped the ante by requiring that some or all of the park offerings move.  The physics students were ecstatic.  They found toy personal fans, stripped the motors, and attached them to Ferris wheels, petticoat rides, roller coasters, and other rides and attractions.  Some of the students used string lights to create different effects for different areas of their parks.  The mixture of ideas from the twenty-first century and the eighteenth century did not seem to bother them as they created rides of the future and gave them eighteenth-century qualities.

The theme park offers a way to assess student learning.  I always have thought that I needed to see what each student—independent of the others—is doing and knowing so that I can know what I need to do to help this student "get it."  I can see from what they build how they understand the assignments and what connections they are making.  That helps me structure future lessons.  Students went back to the pieces they had read, making sure they were correct and searching for innuendos that would make their park more interesting.  Each student contributed to a group paper describing the theme park for visitors and each student wrote her own paper about the experience.  Several wrote that they learned more about this unit than any other because they were left alone to do their own research and to choose what was important to them.  

In high school, students easily put what they are learning in each different class in a different box or notebook and leave it there---sometimes forever.  The maker movement in my classroom forced them to use what they were learning in other classes to complete the assignment.  Before the advent of testing and teacher paranoia over getting in the tested curriculum, students were free to let their minds roam from one class to another and teachers from different disciplines actually had conversations and incorporated each others' disciplines in their lessons.  These students had an opportunity to experience the interrelatedness of the disciplines through these makes.  They became responsible for their own learning and did more research and actual learning than they would have done without the hands-on experience.

The use of recyclables to create the projects took on its own life.  Suddenly students began to contemplate how they could remake something that had become obsolete into something useful.  They became more aware of what could be recycled and what went into the landfill.  They went to the physics/biology teacher for more information and for the life of items in the landfill.  The combination of creating out of unwanted items, reading environmental stories and accounts, discussions, and writing about it brought about change in our community—one that promises to continue as we continue to create new opportunities for learning through makes.Sall