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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Angry Birds Tinkering

IMG_4194.JPGCatapult.JPGIn the late fall five year old Izaiah spent weeks re-creating and extending scenes from the game Angry Birds by building small block structures and knocking them down by tossing another small block at them.  Eventually he decided to construct a catapult to launch items into his structures.  On the day the photo here was captured he was particularly engaged in this task.  He had already spent some time playing around with the catapult idea and for about an hour on this day he used various materials and the support of a thinking partner and mentor (Lacy) to try to get the catapult to work in the way he wanted.  First he tried a zig- zag arrangement of yarn; then he hot glued the popsicle sticks as a platform.    He  backtracked and tried just one piece of yarn and added support blocks to keep the catapult stable.  As he worked he and Lacy talked about the materials he was using.  They talked about how the yarn seemed tight, but then would loosen and become slack.  Izaiah decided he needed something stretchy.  Lacy offered the idea of elastic and fished a piece out of the sewing basket for him.  This worked a bit better and the block did get some launch movement.  Another child came by and offered that Izaiah needed something like a rail to keep the block on the platform during launch.  So Izaiah and Lacy tried to attached pipe cleaners to get this effect.  With each small adjustment Izaiah tried launching a block.  Usually with little forward movement, but with a lot of joy in building a structure to knock down, making noises to launch the block and storytelling about what was happening with the pieces. Lacy and Izaiah got some okay launches in by the end, not perfect launches, before Izaiah decided to turn his attention elsewhere.  Later when Izaiah and Lacy looked back at the photos of the catapult he offered this poetic reflection:

An angry birds launcher
Angry Birds space
Put a block to destroy the castle
I wanted to play
Angry Birds Castle
If you pull it,
you need something
to hold on to it.