Putting herself in an unfamiliar learning setting, Christiane Dufour experienced first-hand what happens in the “making” process when one is unfamiliar with the materials and the techniques associated with them. It brought home what three teachers discovered when they implemented STEAM the Kindergarten Way through Play.
Be sure to scroll all the way down to the video at the end.
I have a confession to make: I envy the creativity and ability of those who can imagine something and then give form to it. Whether they draw it or make it, it seems to spring easily from within to be translated into the medium of their choosing. That’s an illusion of course: they learned their craft through a lot of experimentation over time.
I’ve never experienced that apparent ease. But, as a teacher, I must and do believe that you can learn anything when you set your heart to it. So, listening to the admonitions of the adage that you’re never too old to learn, I decided to take art classes, starting with learning how to draw.
Pencils and paper; lots of paper and a good assortment of pencils! I’m in familiar territory. The teacher is great, creative. He has a road map in his head but many ways to take us along. He listens, adapts to our abilities and interests. I’m learning to draw, to manipulate these familiar pencils along with a few other simple tools to create the effects I see in my head or in the models he gives us to reproduce or to inspire us.
Every week, he enriches our toolkit of gestures and expands our capabilities by building on the previous lessons. When he shows us a technique or corrects our work, he tells us what he is doing and, while doing that, he provides us with a language for shapes, forms, gestures, tools, space and more. All good! I’m still in friendly territory. I see where this is going and, more and more, I imagine things that I could do along with an ever greater variety of ways to do them. I think my drawings are sometimes quite nice. It feels good.
After weeks of learning all kinds of techniques and eventually practicing how to draw hands in all sorts of positions, the potter’s hands emerged from my page by bringing together many of these techniques.
Then he throws us (me!) for a loop. He says he’ll show us a technique that will allow us to marry drawing and painting. This time, he proceeds with the lesson in steps.
Apply paint to this canvas. (Voice in my head: is any particular way better than another?) Now wait to let it dry.
Apply this gel to the canvas in this way. (Ok, what does the gel do? Thick or thin coat? What will it look like when it dries?)
Sprinkle this powder over the gel. The powder prevents the gel from drying too quickly, we are told. (OK, but my brain still wants to know what the powder will look like when gel and powder dry.)
Now take this bamboo skewer and draw by scraping away the gel and powder. (Draw? What, how, why?)
This is not the end of the process; there will be a few other steps to the finished product but I don’t yet know what they are. So I draw the way I do with pencils: lines to create a shape and a few details to give it volume.
I scrape away!
I feel lost.
It doesn’t look like anything I can relate to! I can’t imagine what this will end up looking like. I can’t even think of other things I could do that would give an interesting effect. It just looks like a mess!
I have no idea what I’m doing with these materials!
This is an “ah ha!” moment for me. I feel lost.
I can’t even imagine what I could do because these materials are so unfamiliar. I don’t know what they will let me create.
And, there and then, I’m brought back to what we discovered in our STEAM in K one-year experimentation. Namely, how important it is for children to be given ample time to play with and explore materials, tools and techniques freely and with no end-product in mind. Well, this doesn’t apply just to preschool children, does it? It certainly applied to me! And it’s true for any learner at any level. It‘s true also for anything we learn, from art to coding and for all the other letters in STEAM.
In our year-long project in which three experienced teachers implemented STEAM in Kindergarten, this fact was spectacularly brought home the day clay was introduced in the class. It was a totally new and unfamiliar medium which just shouted to be explored. Their exploration started with the medium itself.
How does it feel? How does it let itself be manipulated? What different gestures can be used to shape it? What can be done with these shapes? Then, what tools can be used to refine manipulation? How do you change its texture? How do you stick pieces together? And so much more!
After having played with clay in many ways and used different tools and techniques over several sessions, the children discovered how this material works and what they could do with the tools. It also gave the teachers time to provide them with the language associated with this medium, the vocabulary of clay, its tools and gestures. Having worked with it many times with no particular goal in mind, the children were finally able to imagine what they would like to MAKE with it AND they were able shape their idea into the clay and obtain an intentional result.
The lesson I draw from this experience is that when we are introduced to new, unfamiliar materials, practices or techniques, we need to be given the opportunity to explore the potential of the materials multiple times before we make something with it whether it be a picture, a “thing”, or a program.
I am reminded that when we observe children inventing and making things with wooden blocks, with LEGO or with cardboard boxes, we tend to forget that they are quite familiar with these materials which have been part of their environment since daycare. They can turn them into any number of wondrous creations or use them in unsuspected ways to serve their goals. Add a few new materials into the mix, such as cars, balls, PVC pipes or cardboard tubes, tape, and they will be able to imagine new things to do and to make.
Without that, we are only following instructions without much understanding or transferable learning, very much like I experienced in my fateful lesson. Familiarity breeds creativity as well as proficiency.
Observe the exploration and creativity that is possible when Kindergarten students familiarize themselves with new materials without having to worry about creating a single product.
This is a guest post by SWLSB Science and Technology consultant Samuel Altarac.
How many times do we hear that math and science are boring and not creative? After witnessing the energy and imagination present at last week’s CRC Robotics competition, I can vehemently disagree!
Students from twenty-five schools across the province (even one team from BC) all zealously converged on Laval Senior Academy High School to participate in a massive bilingual event where passion, creativity, and scientific thought were STEAM-ing from the bots. Our host school topped off the experience by inviting LEARN to run a pop-up Makerspace in the library where hundreds of elementary school students were given the opportunity to explore circuits, to make animations, “spinart”, robotics, programming, and so much more. Their engagement and excitement spurred on active thinking and above all, fun! Students used everyday items to produce musical notes (think Tom Hanks Big 1988), while others generated beautiful art patterns using coloured pens, cups, corks, electric motors, and their imagination.
As the younger students made use of their higher-order thinking skills in the library, the older competitors, whose robots had just come from the playing field, used their critical thinking and communication skills to troubleshoot their motors and circuits in between heats. Every participant was deeply engaged and “thinking like a scientist”, contributing to their team’s success over the three day event.
My one big reflection on this event was, how can we make all our schools more STEAM-based?
I suspect one way to engage the classroom anew is with Makerspaces – a movement that is “disrupting” the traditional paradigm of education. It has grown in popularity because it has fostered an environment and culture in which students get their “hands dirty” by doing, making, and discovering the world they live in through inquiry and experimentation.
Sir Ken Robinson explains in his TED talk that the educational system we’ve inherited was devised by those who came at the turn of the century during the industrial revolution where it was very successful at training people for factory jobs. However, students are living in a different reality: one where schooling does not guarantee a job.
The robotics competition showed what can often be missing in the classroom: a space for students to actively engage in creative and inquiry-driven projects fueled by their own innate curiosity and passion.
Let’s commit to empowering our students in all academic disciplines and to learn by doing.
In early April, a LEARN team composed of Chris Colley and Christine Truesdale visited three schools in the Gaspé to work with students and teachers on the Makerspace idea with our Open Creative Space model. The following is the post published by RECIT pedagogical consultant Craig Bullett on the ESSB blog. We are reposting it.
Eastern Shores School Board showcased our Makerspace initiative as the product of a Professional Development Innovation Grant (PDIG). The project was a collaboration of Teachers from Gaspe Elementary, Belle Anse, and Shigawake Port Daniel Schools. The project was coordinated by the ESSB local RECIT, and generously supported by LEARN Quebec’s Open Creative Spaces Team. LEARN loaded up a van with everything under the sun, and brought the Makerspace concept to the Eastern Shores School Board.
The event took place from April 3rd to 6th, and involved…120 students from grades 3 to 8.
11 Teachers (representing 8 different schools).
The Open Creative Spaces Team from LEARN Quebec.
Gaspe Elementary, Shigawake Port Daniel School, and the Anchor Adult Ed Center hosted their very own Makerspace concepts with students from their respective communities.
Day 1 April 3rd:
Shigawake Port Daniel School with grade 4-5-6 students from SPDS.
SPDS staff transformed the school’s lunch area and stage into an impressive open space to accommodate everyone. Students could move freely through the various stations. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) applications were blended into each of the various stations including,…
Building motorized artbots which draw on their own.
Programming the Ollie and Sphero robots to navigate an obstacle course built by students.
Building a water dam with lego, to create energy.
Creating an homopolar motor, powered by magnets, batteries, and copper wire.
Creating a piano with keys made of play-doh, fruit and cups of water.
Programing turtle art to draw shapes.
Designing and Building a catapult to knock down a tower of cups.
Day 2 April 4th
Gaspe Elementary School with grade 5-6 students from Gaspe Elementary School.
On this day, we converted the entire Gaspe Elementary Gymnasium into the GES Makerspace. The same Challenges and activities were replicated as done at SPDS. It is interesting to note the different outcomes with a simple change of venue. We could have brought the SPDS students to this location, and the experience would have been completely new! GES students exposed new angles and perspectives not seen the previous day.
Day 3 April 5th
Gaspe Elementary School with grade 3-4 students from Gaspe Elementary and Belle Anse School.
We opened the gym once again to our newest student audience. The mixture of students from 2 different schools created an interesting dynamic to start the day. It was clear to see students sticking to their own school group initially. As the day progressed, it was impossible to tell what student was from which school. They were all Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, Artists, and Mathematicians. The selection of stations and the duration to stay at each was left completely to student choice. It was amazing! No stations were ever empty and none were overcrowded. Students moved freely between stations in no particular order and without time restrictions. This phenomenon held true for all of our Makerspace days. It simply worked!
Day 4 April 6th
The Anchor Adult Education Center with grade 7-8 students from New Carlisle High School.
We brought the Makerspace concept to The Anchor to share the concept with the Adult Ed Community. On this day, we brought High school Students to experience the concept, while Adult Ed staff could also appreciate the phenomenon. The concept of stations is making it’s way into Adult Ed Centers across Quebec, and there are similarities to the makerspace concept. I think we planted some seeds for community Makerspace ideas to emerge from the event. Several Teachers commented on the lack of discipline problems and interventions needed to keep students engaged. Students were proud of accomplishments, really stuck to the task, and got through some difficult challenges.
This makerspace event could not have succeeded without the proper framework guiding it. It was important to start with the appropriate mindset. We started each day by reading a story. We chose The most Magnificent Thing, but any similar story could work. It is important to talk about overcoming challenges and not giving up with a challenge. It is also important to emphasize that mistakes are ‘okay’. Finally, remember to have fun!
We concluded each day with reflections from students. This allowed learners to consolidate their experience and identify what about the Makerspace concept, makes learning fun. Typically similar words came from each session. Choice, empowerment, autonomy, creativity, cooperation, trial and error.
We can say without a doubt that we learned something new everyday. We, being everyone involved! Organizers, Teachers, Administrators, and Students.
The most notable observations were the absence of conflict, the seamless cooperation, and the easy transitions between activities.
A few weeks ago, Chris Colley and I were at Edgewater Elementary School (LBPSB) to try our hand at Making with our youngest group ever – Grade One. Since the last school year, we have visited over two dozen classrooms, and have held just over 10 Open Creative Space days at our offices or on the road, working with both teachers and students on the Maker Mindset through hands-on making. You can read about it here and here. We’ve been mainly aiming at the middle, that grade 5-6 sweet spot where maturity and flexible scheduling meet in the perfect learning storm. But we’ve been curious about 1) how our STEAM challenges would scale up or down, 2) how long it would take grade one students to complete each challenge and whether they had the requisite attention span and 3) how they handled some of the more complex materials.
Adapting our challenges to Cycle 1
Although at LEARN we use the inclusive term Open Creative Space for our own makerspace, many in the anglophone education community in Quebec have taken a shine to the STEAM initiatives that have swept across our neighbours to the south. With that in mind, we’ve called our Maker challenges STEAM challenges so that students engage with familiar terminology already in use in their schools. For Cycle 1, we chose those challenges that we could see young learners being able to complete with minimal adult intervention. As it was our first time working in a structured way with Grade 1 students in a Maker context (we are both parents of younger kids, so have plenty of recent informal experience to draw upon), we agreed to try out some challenges even if we weren’t sure they would work, in a spirit of joyful experimentation. We chose the following challenges:
Art-bot: Make a robot that draws using a small motor and simple dollar store items. Our hypothesis: Students will be able to do this with careful scaffolding
Lego design: work with Lego blocks to create something based on a design specification. Our hypothesis: Easy-peasy lemon squeezy
Pinwheel: make a working pinwheel that spins. Our hypothesis: Doable with some adult help
Turtle Art: Basic programming challenge using a Scratch-based interface and programming cards. Our hypothesis: Probably too hard for grade 1
Claymation: Create an animation featuring a moving object. Our hypothesis: No problem for grade 1
Straw solids: Create a platonic solid from straws and pipe-cleaners. Our hypothesis: No problem for grade 1
Working with Cycle 1 students – a PMI*
Pascale Quenneville’s Grade One students were excited to being “doing Science”, as they phrased it. They were also used to working through stations, so we decided to use their existing class structure during the challenges. This was familiar to them and made transitions even more seamless than in older grades, and freed us up to focus on getting the challenge tables ready for the next group. Each student was able to complete three challenges over the course of the half-day we spent with them. I’ve divided the stations using a Plus-Minus-Interesting reflection model.
In terms of sheer learning joy, the two clear winners were the Art-bot and the Claymation challenges. We felt good about these challenges for the age group and were proved right. At the Art-bot station, grade one students were able to work in pairs to power a small motor using a battery and alligator cables, to affix the motor and battery to a cup and to attach markers to the cup. The students struggled somewhat with the fine motor skills required to affix the alligator clip to the tiny prongs of the motor, so we gave them a break and cut their duct tape for them. Judicious scaffolding. The testing phase was full of squeals and questions such as “Why doesn’t my robot move as fast as their robot?” and ‘How come the blue marker isn’t touching the paper?”.
On the surface, the pinwheel challenge seemed a shoo-in for Cycle 1. However, we forgot about the straight pin that needs to go through the paper and into the wooden dowel, making this challenge impossible for grade 1 students to complete on their own. Creating a square out of a rectangular piece of paper and then cutting only part of the way along a line were also aspects of the pinwheel challenge that required serious adult intervention. After the first round of students, we switched to using pencils instead of dowels, and sticking the straight pin into the eraser part. This was easier, but still out of reach for grade 1. This challenge would be best done as a multi-age challenge where older students create the pinwheel and Cycle 1 students participate in the testing phase with a fan.
Another challenge that we felt good about for grade 1 was creating straw solids, using pipe cleaners. When we heard that Pascale’s grade 1 students had done solids earlier in the school year, we were even more confident. It turns out that threading pipe cleaners through straws, and twisting them together to form the solid was somewhat out of reach for a majority of students. It was another station at which adult intervention was required to a degree that made the challenge both uninspiring for some students, and inappropriate for our goal of having kids engage fully in the act of making.
One of our newer challenges is one where students choose a card and have to build something with Lego according to the design constraint identified. An example of a design constraint is “build something that is very tall and stands alone” or “build something that moves”. It was interesting to note that the boys in Pascale’s class were highly motivated to complete this challenge, even when they didn’t exactly know what to do. In the future, we will be trying to frame the design challenge questions in various ways to see if any resonate more with girls.
We were also unsure if grade one students would be able to do basic programming with Turtle Art on the iPad. After some back and forth, Chris went through the programming cards and chose the simplest ones, with the simplest series of commands. After a brief intro, the kids were off and running, with very minimal adult intervention.
Overall, our first foray into engaging Cycle 1 kids in Maker activities was very successful, with both teacher and students full of enthusiasm and plans for the future. Pascale Quenneville suggested that her school create a continuum for maker skills and attitudes, so that kids in grade one would be already developing competencies needed for more complex making in Cycle 3. We have seen Cycle 3 students be extremely capable when faced with our pre-planned open-ended Maker challenges. The ultimate goal, however, is for those students to have the competencies necessary for their own projects. Starting as early as Cycle 1 would mean that by the time students hit Cycle 3, they would be familiar with the practical (not just theoretical) notions of circuits, of simple machines, of building, of planning, of trial and error, of perseverance. That’s the dream.
*PMI – Plus, Minus, Interesting
Other posts about Making and our Open Creative Space initiative
At LEARN we’ve been reflecting on how best to increase student engagement in school, as it has been closely linked with academic achievement and students’ perceptions of their ability to succeed. One of our initiatives has been harnessing the power and appeal of the Maker Movement in the school context. To this end, we’ve been inviting teachers to Open Creative Space days at our offices and also working directly with teachers and their students in classrooms. We’ve also done whole-staff ped days at schools where there is interest in setting up a Makerspace or Open Creative Space. Working closely with teachers and students has been rewarding and has allowed us to refine our thinking about Making in schools. This post discusses one of the main ways we’ve been introducing Making to teachers and students – our STEAM Challenges – and explores how these challenges are just a pathway into a more holistic view of Makerspaces.
It needs to be said that our ideal scenario is one where each school has a dedicated Makerspace or Creative Space, equipped with a wide variety of materials and tools. Teachers would be able to book the space for projects, as well as have a time in their schedule dedicated to Making, Passion Projects or Genius Hour. Some of the schools we’ve worked with have a dedicated room that they have designated as their Makerspace, and some are looking at their libraries as multi-function spaces that include Making. Currently, many teachers are interested in the Maker Movement, but are looking for a pathway in, something familiar enough to allow them to feel secure with trying out a new risky and potentially time-intensive practice. Some of the concerns expressed by teachers are:
Students don’t have the practical skills needed to make the things they want to make
Teachers don’t have the practical skills needed to make the things students want to make
Many students lack ideas about what they could make
Making something worthwhile takes too much time
A shared Makerspace is messy and disorganized
Do Makerspace activities fit into the QEP (Quebec curriculum)?
At LEARN, we have been addressing many of these concerns by working with teachers and students on a series of open-ended challenges. These STEAM challenges allow for many ways of proceeding and for many possible discoveries and end products. Typically, we plan nearly a full day with a class, starting just after recess and often going until the end of the day. In that time frame, we are able to have 3 challenges blocks of about 45 minutes each, with an intro and a debrief at the end. We work with teachers remotely to choose the challenges offered to students, and ideally students pre-select their top three challenge choices from the 6 or 7 options offered to them. Each challenge is set up on its own table or pod and comes with a laminated challenge card which gives students the goal of the challenge and a basic overview. We circulate and give students clues or ask questions to help them get started or help them over hurdles. Sometimes, students will need to have the goal of the challenge explained to them in more detail. All our challenges and the challenge cards can be found via our working blog ocs.learnquebec.ca.
Let’s be clear about one thing. The challenges are hard. They involve skills the students don’t have for the most part. They involve concepts that students may or may not have been exposed to, and often very peripherally, such as the idea that batteries provide power to devices, and come in many different shapes. Teachers who see the challenges for the first time are often surprised. Students who see the challenges for the first time are often surprised – “But what do we have to DO?” they ask. But, in spite of this, there has not been a single group of kids who have been unable to complete the vast majority of challenges in the timeframe provided.
When the LEARN team came to Dorset, the experience was so enriching and fun we begged them to come back a second day…The students problem-solved, used their creativity, discovered, shared, learned, got frustrated, persisted, encouraged each other, discussed and had fun. The students and teachers got so much out of the LEARN visits. – Sylviane Martinis, Dorset Elementary, LBPSB
So far, the reactions to our LEARN Challenge days have been unequivocally positive. Teachers like the challenge model because we bring all the necessary materials with us and offer a wide range of challenges. Many teachers appreciate learning along with their students, and having us handle the immediate pedagogical aspects allows them to see how they might do it in the future. We also work in their own spaces: classrooms, Makerspaces or libraries. But if there were ever any doubts as to the success of the challenges, they would be dispelled upon witnessing the reactions from the students. From students spontaneously shouting out “This is the best day EVER!” as they get their ArtBot to draw, or their robot to follow the course they programmed for it, to clamouring for their teacher to take a video to send to their parents, to spontaneous hugs received in the hallways… Every day we spend with students, we are recommitted to growing the hands-on experiential Maker Movement in schools. Every time we see a student who struggles academically experience success, we are re-energized about our work.
Ultimately, though, the goal is not to have all students doing STEAM challenges ad nauseum. The challenges, after all, are just somewhat less structured activities, which, while making them an excellent first foray into the Making journey, do not stem from students’ own passions and ideas. The challenges give students exposure and above all, basic skills. When coupled with a growth mindset in the classroom, these three elements combine into a powerful cocktail of creative potential that can find free rein in an unstructured makerspace or open creative space, where there are no challenges, only materials, time and distributed expertise. Is Making a panacea for all the ills of education? Probably not. But the transformative power of creating has the potential to breathe new life into our system and ignite passion for learning. We’ll take it.
If you believe, “It’s hard for me to learn new things,” “I’m not good with science,” “I’m not a natural dancer,” “I’m not creative,” “I’m a pessimist,” you’re probably living with a fixed mindset. Such a mindset locks your abilities in place, boxing your learning within the constrains of what you think you know and are good at, and that’s it! How can you free yourself from the shackles of these perceived limitations? Is it possible to grow your mindset? Can I as an educator instil an open or growth mindset into my children and students? Let’s explore how the power of words can lead teachers and students alike to becoming life long learners.
In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it. – Carol Dweck, Stanford University
Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck’s research into fixed vs. growth mindsets shines a light on the words we use when interacting with our young people, and shows us how these words can affect a child’s perception of their abilities. One might think that praising a child for a good exam result, or highlighting how amazing a student’s talent in adding up numbers is would be the right words of encouragement, right? Actually, they do quite the opposite. Dweck explains, “When you let the results define you — your talent, your test scores, your weight, your job, your performance, your appearance — you become the victim of a fixed mindset.” This phenomenon is referred to as learned helplessness, in which words of praise, such as “you’re so smart, you always get it right, you’re the best writer ever!” actually hinder a learner from believing in one’s full potential. They will tend to shy away from challenges for fear of being wrong, shy away from problems so they are not perceived as dumb, making a fragile and defensive learner fixed within their limited perception of self. Dweck further states that “those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.”
More than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings. – Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck
The power to begin shifting learners away from a fixed to growth mindset begins with words! Simple words with powerful implications. One such word is yet! Yet allows for constructive feedback, with trust in growth, for example, “Your program still needs some tweaking when you are using turning angles. You’re not there yet, but I know with some more trial and error you’ll get there.” Process oriented praise is our best friend when addressing small successes. This way, mistakes can be seen as opportunities for further learning, and persistence is embraced by giving learners time to explore and figure it out. Praise is most effective when focused on effort, strategies used, focus on task, persistence, cooperation, willingness to take on challenges.
Look at Sylvia Duckworth’s infographic on comparison similar statements in two different mindsets:
Adults in the building have to be very clear that you can’t have a focus on growth mindsets if all you’re going to be focused on is grades. – Stephen Mahoney, principal of Springfield Renaissance School
Where fixed mindsets see barriers and lack of abilities, growth mindsets see lifelong learning and unlimited potential. The fact is: learners will struggle at some point in their lives. Simply by the words we choose to use when addressing adversity in learning, we can begin to see a shift away from the fixed mindset that is so damaging to perseverance and self-esteem. Words are a good place to start, but ultimately, what is also needed is a shift away from performance oriented goals and into process oriented learning goals. After all, no amount of exams, tests, worksheets or quizzes will lead an individual to knowing how to be a learner. Rather, individuals build an identity through experiential learning rather than worrying about getting the right results. So the next time your child or student says “I’m horrible at math,” reinforce growth, ” Well, Chris, you have a good understanding of fractions, you’re just not there yet when it comes to decimals. Let’s look at the strategies you’re using for fractions and see how they can apply to decimals.”
Alton-Lee, A. (2003, June). Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/curriculum/2515/5959
Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance.Journal of Personalityand Social Psychology, Vol. 75, No. 1, pages 33–52; November 1998.
Dweck, C. S. (2014, December 18). The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids1/
J. A. Mangels, B. Butterfield, J. Lamb, C. Good and C. S. Dweck. Why Do Beliefs about Intelligence Influence Learning Success? A Social Cognitive Neuroscience Model. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 1, No. 2, pages 75–86; September 2006.
Lisa S. Blackwell, Kali H. Trzesniewski and Carol S. Dweck. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, Vol. 78, No. 1, pages 246–263; January/February 2007.
Is Play on the Endangered List of our Kindergarten Practices?
A friend of mine, an experienced teacher, was reminiscing on her years teaching kindergarten. She regaled us with funny stories, precious moments, and some great aha! moments. One of these aha! moments happened at the beginning of her career. She had taken great pride in planning her day and had organised activities that she thought would be fun and interesting for the children. After they had danced, made puppets and done a sing-along, one child asked her: “When do we get to play?”
She was flabbergasted. The realisation that the children did not view these well planned teacher-led activities as PLAY was a revelation which, over time, changed her view of what her classroom environment should offer. Her misunderstanding is not unique. The problem is that there’s a lot of confusion around what constitutes PLAY. But in the words of a five year-old, it’s really simple: “Playing is doing what we want.”
Yet for many teachers, play remains an ambiguous concept. For some it’s what children do in the short free play periods between more structured activities; for others it’s their center time with proposed activities/challenges that may last 30 to 40 minutes; sometimes it’s viewed as being able to choose among playful activities presented by the teacher. The children can choose their activity; participation, however, is not optional. In certain cases, playtime will be used as a reward for children who have completed a mandatory activity or for those who behaved “well”. As a result, only children who do things quickly and easily get the reward.
What is play?
But there’s really no in-between with regards to play: either you’re playing or you’re not, because playing is a state of being, a way of experiencing life during a certain time. So when I speak of “play” here, I refer to activities that are freely chosen and directed by children which arise from intrinsic motivation and are sustained over a significant period of time.
These play activities have the following characteristics:
They involve a process with no specific objective, no required product, result or outcome;
Play is not predictable and you never know where it will lead the players or how it will end because neither rules, outcomes nor tasks are set by an outsider. The players are in control of all aspects of their activity;
The children choose to do it because they want to do it (they are intrinsically motivated);
They can choose who they play with, what they play with, how they play with it, and for how long;
It’s a sustained activity in which the children become immersed in ideas, emotions and relationships. They call upon their personal experience and knowledge while exploring, discovering, and practicing. They use their imagination; they demonstrate dexterity, problem solving abilities, perseverance, and much more.
There are mountains of research that show that “Young children learn the most important things not by being told, but by constructing knowledge for themselves in interaction with the physical world and with other children – and the way they do this is by playing”. (1)
And these “most important things” all relate one way or another to the competencies of the Quebec Preschool Education Program:
Psychomotor Development (Competency 1)
Social Development (Competency 2)
Emotional Development (Competency 3)
Language Development (Competency 4)
Cognitive Development (Competencies 5 and 6)
Where is the play?
So why don’t we find more real play time in our kindergarten classes?
There is no doubt that we bathe in the academic approach of all the other cycles around us in a school. Peers and parents don’t necessarily understand the kindergarten program, and see it as the beginning of academic life for the child, which in truth should be found in Grade 1. Most of our own learning experience is based on academic teaching models as well. No wonder it is so difficult for us to identify and name the contributions of play to learning. It entails a shift in our mind set. It requires us to look again and differently at our materials and at what could be done with them.
Taking blocks as an example, we need to think about and identify how children’s block play contributes to learning, and what conditions, materials, time and space we need to provide for that learning to happen. We have to think about what we want to learn about the children as we observe their play and their talk; we need be able to see and to “name” their behaviours, their processes, their strategies, and their attitudes in order document them.
Luckily we have a guide at our disposal which contains all that information. It tells us what to aim for and what to look for: the Québec Preschool Education Program. I like the way my friend talks about her relationship with it. For her, it’s a guide you have to see and embrace “by heart”. It’s her heartfelt understanding of it that has guided her through the years.
If we can convince ourselves that playing is not just a “recreational activity” but the core of children’s learning experience, then perhaps we could do like my friend did, and slowly but surely turn our classes into a place where the children can, first and foremost, learn the most important lessons in life … through play.
(1) Jones, E., & Reynolds, G. (1992). The play’s the thing: Teacher’s roles in children’s play, pg. 1.
Additional quick reads and references:
Why Play, Retrieved May 6, 2016 from http://EarlyLearningCentral.ca.
My daughter recently had the opportunity to participate in a Genius Hour project at her school and then a board-wide sharing session, where principals and vice-principals met students from around the OCDSB to hear about their Genius Hour projects. My daughter’s math teacher, Chris Hiltz, introduced this initiative at his school 3 years ago, and has become an ambassador for the project in his school board. I spoke with him about his Genius Hour experiences to date.
Name: Chris Hiltz School/Board: Fisher Park/Summit Alternative, Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) Level: Middle School Subject: Math Experience: 15 years
What is Genius Hour?
Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages choice and creativity in the classroom. The teacher provides a set amount of time for the students to work on their passion projects. Students are then challenged to explore something that they want to learn about and to do a project about it. They spend several weeks researching the topic before they start creating a product that will be shared with the class/school/world. Deadlines are limited and creativity is encouraged. Throughout the process the teacher facilitates the student projects to ensure that they are on task. http://www.geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/
Why was it important for you to introduce the idea of Genius Hour at Fisher Park/Summit Alternative?
CH: I’m getting the feeling, I don’t know if it is my age or how many years I have been in the game, that there is going to be a fundamental shift in what schools are. I’m not talking about revising the curriculum, or having more computers in the school. I think that in Canada, we’re going to have to take a hard look at what schools are, and at what they can be. The driving force for this change is access to the internet.
To tell a student that I am the holder of knowledge, and you have to learn what I say when I say it, is less and less accepted by students and by me! My role has to change as an educator. I need to think differently about what education is, and what this building is, for the students who come. I have been playing with this in my mind for a while, while hearing people like Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, and Will Richardson talking about how things are changing in education.
I was on the lookout for something that could change in my practice, and my approach to teaching, when I came across the idea of Genius Hour a few years ago. It really resonated with me. I could see other teachers in my building being interested too.
It really did prove to be a great way to explore these ideas of how schooling can be different, how we can put more responsibility for learning on the students. Not that I am saying that I want to give away all of the responsibility to make my job easier, because it doesn’t, but to allow students to take the reins, and more control of their own learning.
Bringing in what schools are calling “21st century skills” (critical thinking, problem solving, collaborations, making more and authentic use of technology) is gaining more momentum in the education community. Universities are looking for these skills, but in the elementary grades we want to see these skills develop in our students as well. If we want students to think critically, we need to incorporate these ideas into our day-to-day work. Genius hour, I thought, was a great way to address or explore some of these ideas.
What was your timeline and, how did you introduce Genius Hour?
CH: Over a school break, I stumbled upon a short video, “What is Genius Hour?” Coming back to school, I went straight to my principal, shared the video with her, and I told her, “This is something that I would be interested in trying here. Do you think that I could try? Can I go to staff and see if there is anyone else?”
I got an immediate YES from my principal! In January 2014, I put an e-mail out to the teachers to gauge interest. Luckily, a couple of the teachers in the alternative program replied that they would be interested. We were able to get release time from our principal to sit and talk about what this could look like.
The video didn’t have a lot of answers so we spent some time doing research, finding resources, and talking about what this could look like at our school, what things might we adopt, what things would we have to create. We blocked six weeks in which we chose two 50-minute periods, times when our schedules could sync, to dedicate to Genius Hour.
We started our first Genius Hour the first week after March Break. We brought four classes to the auditorium to introduce the idea, how it was going to work, and how it was different from a “regular” school project. We didn’t ask how it wouldn’t work. We ran with it!
It ended up being almost instantly transformative for the teachers and students involved. It became very apparent that this was not a typical kind of project!
The first thing that we saw was the wide range of student interests. It took some thinking to get out of the rut of what a “regular school project” is, to try to push the students beyond PowerPoint and the science fair poster board. We had to unlearn or think differently about what this project could be.
Over those weeks, we extended our planned 6 weeks to 7.5 or 8, we saw that the students’ engagement was very high. Their problem-solving and research skills were being put to the test and they knew that they could rely on their teachers, and each other, to help. With our first sharing day, we knew immediately that this was something that we wanted to do again.
In the first year we started with four teachers and four classes. The second year, we had seven classes. In 2016, we had four grade 8 alternative classes, three early French Immersion grade 7 classes, the grade 7 gifted class, 2 core French classes, and a middle French immersion class, PLUS a music teacher ran a subject-specific genius hour project! It is gaining momentum in this school and in our district as well.
How did you start spreading the word in the district?
CH: I knew that I didn’t invent this idea. There are schools around the world using this idea. Luckily for us, we caught the attention of a few people, including Peter Gamwell, a superintendent in the district. He was really interested in what we were doing and it reminded him of things that he had seen in some other schools. We got great support from him.
With Peter’s support, we were able to secure a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Education to create a Professional Learning Network in the OCDSB for teachers interested in trying a passion-based project like Genius Hour. We love it so much, and it worked for us. We wanted to see others try it!
When we got that grant, it made it real for us. We started to get invited to leadership conferences. Last spring we were invited to present at Principal/Vice-Principal Leadership conference where we went with a prepared presentation and some students. Most principals coming into the building had never heard of Genius Hour before. The floodgates opened!
We started getting e-mails from all over the board. In our original grant we had ear-marked money to release 10 teachers and we ended up with over 30! Principals around the district wanted to pay for their teachers to be a part of the network. It quickly snowballed!
It made planning things a little more challenging for us. Our network met for the second time this April. The teachers, who had tried Genius Hour at their schools, gained some resources that we developed and shared some resources that they had. Our ultimate goal is creating an online resource kit that educators and classroom across Ontario could tap into to try something like this in their school.
The projects we love talking about: revealing a child’s hidden genius
One of them comes from the first year of our Genius Hour experience. It was not one of the students that I taught but this young lady was non-verbal until she was 7 years old. Through her Genius Hour project, based on fashion, she developed a mannequin that had a piece of clothing or an an accessory, representing every decade in the 20th century.
She presented her mannequin in front of all four classes, something that her teachers, or her parents, would have never thought that she would be able to do. The passion in this kid came out and allowed her to try something that was outside of her comfort zone, opening our eyes to the potential of this project.
Another example: there are always students who want to learn how to code. It’s an important skill to have. A student last year wanted to make a video game, but he had a different approach. His approach was, “I’m not going to make a video game that I want to play. I’m going to make a video game that my 4 year old neighbour wants to play.”
He interviewed his 4 year old neighbour and asked for some art work too. He took the scribbly drawings of the good guys and the bad guys and he used them to create a video game. In the process, he kept going back for feedback. He took a popular topic, creating a video game, learning to code, but he put an interesting spin on it by looking for a market. He really showed what he was capable of by adding that one extra question – how can my video game be different?
Can students choose their Genius Hour advisor?
We decided that Genius Hour works best when you give as much freedom as possible to the students. That includes the freedom of where to work in the building and to work with someone who you would not necessarily work with regularly. We decided to mix classes so that teachers would be in four different areas of the building: computer lab, library, a quiet work space with some wireless devices and a sewing machine, and maybe the cafeteria. We needed to keep track of where students could go, but the students had the choice.
At the beginning we looked for the emerging themes of the proposals. Some themes that are popular: technology (coding), engineering and building, and, for want of a better term, arts and crafts. We then divide the students, as equally as possible, into four groups, and each teacher is the advisor for a group, responsible for making sure that resources are available, that problem solving is happening, and keeping on top of the students’ progress. Students don’t necessarily work with the students in their class or a teacher that they know.
What are some of the challenges that you encountered?
CH: The trickiest part is the logistics at the beginning. Scheduling can be a nightmare! If a teacher wants to follow in our footsteps by syncing up classes and allow the students the freedom to work with different people and in different spaces, you have to spend some time with other interested teachers and their timetables.
If you have mobile computer labs, or a sewing lab, book those resources as early as possible.
We haven’t had to deal with challenges from students, or parents, or other teachers about why we are using our time on this. Parents could say that school is meant to be spent in class, or whatever misinformation parents might have. Lucky for us, we haven’t had to deal with that.
My advice: plan and schedule as much as possible, right from the beginning. The planning starts in September for a Genius Hour that might not happened until the spring.
What are some of the links to the curriculum that you have seen coming out in the genius hour projects?
CH: I see that what my students are doing is everywhere in the curriculum. The easiest ones for me to see are in the Language curriculum: asking rich questions, research skills, assessing the credibility of a resource, oral presentations.
Also, it was not hard for me to spot the math in the projects. Last year, a boy in grade 8 was really into Rubix cube. His question was, “How long would it take to go through every combination on a Rubix cube if you could change to a new combination every second?” The amount of math that he did was literally astronomical because he tied it into how long it would take for our sun to die. It’s that many!
Straight out the curriculum: conversion of measurement units, of time units, sophisticated mathematics including exponential notation, scientific notation, to express these massive numbers, and even things like using ratio and rate. He figured out if he could do so many turns in one day, how many he could do in one year, and then figure out how many millions of years it would take him to go through all of the possible combinations. It was not hard for me to see the math!
He could come to a teacher to find out how to do all of these things. It would become a conversation with him and the teacher. Instead of the teacher saying “let me teach you how to do it,” the student goes to the teacher and says, “I need to know how to answer this question, and I don’t really know where to begin. Can you help me out?”
Another great example: A grade 7 girl this year is really interested in baking. She decided that she was going to follow a recipe, but make the recipe for 200 people, using ratio and proportional reasoning, directly out of the grade 7 curriculum, to make a recipe bigger.
DC: That project was multi-generational as her parents and grandparents worked with her. Some of the projects become family projects.
CH: Great story! That family spent the entire weekend in the kitchen together. They had it down to a science: the assembly line of production. That level of engagement with school, to have an entire family on board, you don’t get that with a traditional project or homework.
What would be your Genius Hour project? Genius Hour has clearly been a passion project for you.
CH: That’s what I usually answer if a student asks: that Genius Hour is my Genius Hour! I am always looking for ways to improve and expand, to get the word out and see how we can do things a bit better.
Also, I am really interested in exploring new ways that school could be… things like scheduling. Does everyone have to do math at the same time in my class?
I would love the opportunity to explore that, to have the freedom to look at what tiny changes we could make in our building to make learning more authentic and meaningful to students. My role as a teacher is changing, and I have to be open to that change to best help out my students. They’re here for a reason: they want to learn. There are different ways, and maybe even better ways, that we can get that done.
I sometimes say that I have never met a child who is not gifted. But in our classrooms, we don’t always get the opportunity to uncover the genius in every child. Genius Hours seem to be a way of doing just that.
You can connect with Chris Hiltz, and follow along with his Genius Hour journey, on Twitter @mrhiltz .
Have you tried Genius Hour or other passion-based learning projects at your school? Share your experience in the comments below.
Last year, LEARN started exploring the idea of Makerspaces as a way to increase students’ engagement in school. The idea itself is not new. Originally incubated by hackers and computer tinkerers, Makerspaces have taken hold in communities across the world, as people rediscover the simple human joy of making something with their hands. Admittedly, the kinds of making associated with Makerspaces are usually somehow related to engineering and technology, but a growing contingent of low-tech makers are exploring the intersections between engineering and craft, between art and design. At LEARN, we chose to embrace all forms of making (or Making), and have called our makerspace an Open Creative Space, to honour both high- and low-tech making.
We started off holding Open Creative Space days for our LEARN staff composed of teachers and pedagogical consultants. We figured the best way to learn about making was to… make. Once we had a few Open Creative Space days under our belts, we opened up our offices to local educators from all the English School Boards and the QAIS network to join us in joyful, curious making. A lot of what we discovered about our own process is informing our work with schools and communities. In this post, we discuss our discoveries, from each of our perspectives, in the hope of shining a light on some of the more interesting aspects of making (or Making).
Our Personal Experiences with Making
“The human hand is so beautifully formed, its actions are so powerful, so free and yet so delicate that there is no thought of its complexity as an instrument; we use it as we draw our breath, unconsciously.” – Frank R. Wilson
If you asked me last year whether or not I was a maker, I would have replied ‘no’. I come from that peculiar generation, in which – although my parents both know how to make things, sew or build or repair – I was not taught these skills myself. As I was growing up, I was surrounded by the pervasive value that making was what you did if you weren’t good at school. Secondary 3 Technology class was where the kids who weren’t good at academic subjects excelled, and I felt complacent in the knowledge that although I couldn’t cut a straight line or use a drill, I could use my brain to get good grades. In the hierarchy of human abilities in my mind at that time, brain trumped hand. Today, I know that the brain and the hand are inextricably linked in the human experience, from the time early hominids developed opposable thumbs and stood upright. In fact, our experience of the world is fundamentally changed (improved) when we engage with the world with our hands rather than with our eyes and ears alone. Babies and children know this. Neuroscientists know this. But somehow, along the way, we decided that our capacity for abstract thought and creativity could be developed using the brain alone, with visual and aural stimuli alone. That not only was this possible, but that it was desirable. Exit the hand.
Innovative educator, Gary Stager of Constructing Modern Knowledge often says when addressing educators “Less Us, More Them.” The idea being simple, shift agency whenever possible onto the learner. Throughout my career I have found my greatest learning moments with students and teachers have been when I asked an intriguing question or assigned a challenge, and simply stepped back and let the magic happen. However, this morphing mindset from teacher lead subject areas to student based discovery of a multitude of subjects and skills to boot has shown me student learning comes from personal connections, interest and living an experience. This quickly opened up my approach towards students and later teachers, by making students do stuff with their hands, meaningful stuff with a purpose, and saw student engagement erupt in every school I visited. Through well designed, projects, challenges, learning activities, or workshops, like making rockets, building homopolar engines, creating animations, documentaries, complex machines, or circuits, I was easily able to give students back their learning.
Open Creative Space at LEARN
…for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. – Aristotle
We have been thinking a lot at LEARN about student engagement and ways to support schools grow relevancy from within. Dr Seymour Papert’s Eight Big Ideas Behind The Constructionist Learning Lab helped to inspire our very own Open Creative Space (OCS). In this space, the number one rule is “Make something, learn something”. What can this look like in a classroom? was our big question. Our OCS is really that open, an incubator for educators! We don’t tell you what to do, we don’t hand out instructions, we don’t demonstrate what we want you to do. What we do is ask questions, provide support, offer a variety of amazing materials to help ideas or projects develop. We talk, we reflect, we collaborate, we learn. This is an uneasy experience for most simply because we are not used to it. Many educators have come through our hard fun space, and at first are slightly overwhelmed with the open ended nature but soon discover once a good question is asked, they are providing with sufficient time, appropriate materials and of course good support real learning kicks in and mindsets change.
The first time I sat down at a table in our Open Creative Space, I was determined. I could do this. I had a buddy, someone whom I felt knew more than I did about programming, about circuits. The table had an overwhelming array of books on it, and I clung to the most obvious-looking one like a drowning person does a life buoy. Books, I understood. Makerspace Lesson One: Seek out the familiar in the unfamiliar. My buddy decided he wanted to make a theremin, a project located about two thirds of the way through the book. Fighting my desire to start at the beginning, I started by following the steps outlined. We had to backtrack of course and consult some of the earlier bits in the book, but in the end we were successful. Makerspace Lesson Two: Know yourself. I’m cautious and a planner. This may not be bold or audacious, but there isn’t only one way to engage with making. As the kids are saying these days: “you do you”. On subsequent Open Creative Space days, I went with the flow, gravitating sometimes toward the things that felt comfortable and sometimes to the things that scared me. What surprised me most was that sometimes the things that felt comfortable turned out to be quite challenging and the things that made me nervous turned out to be easy and fun. Makerspace Lesson Three: Check your baggage. Every OCS day I discover more about how I learn and about how others learn, while picking up some valuable skills along the way.
Above All, A Maker Mindset
We are approaching the end of our second year working in our Open Creative Space and sharing the Maker model with educators. In this journey, we have realized that the most important thing about Makerspaces is not the technology, the equipment, the supplies, the kits, nor even the clever storage solutions (although these have their merits to be sure). The key to successful and sustainable Making is to above all embody a Maker mindset and help others develop one in turn. It is the core belief that we are most engaged in our learning when we make something that will drive the creation of Makerspaces that fit the community from which they emerge.
Curious about Makerspaces, (or ArtHives, Genius Hours and Passion Projects)? There’s no better way to learn about the Maker movement than by living the experience yourself! Once a month, LEARN invites educators to its Open Creative Space in Laval for a hands-on session. Participants engage in the process of making and tinkering, with access to resources, tools, ideas and community. The next session is May 27th. Spaces are limited and tend to go fast. You can RSVP by emailing email@example.com
Beyond the Textbook series is following up on a recent post about nurturing girls’ interest in STEM careers with an interview with physicist, entrepreneur, programmer and CEO of Moondrop Entertainment, Ana Albir. I met Ana recently at the Miami Device learning event where I saw her speak on a panel about concerns on low involvement of women in science & technology fields. The panel discussed the importance of good female role models in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. I was happy to hear that each of the panelists felt that their career paths were positively influenced by women they admired. In this vein, Ana agreed to share her story and experiences to hopefully do the same for our community; encourage young women in believing there are no limits to their hopes and dreams regardless of their chosen field.
How the journey began
I first asked Ana about her journey to becoming the CEO of a popular educational app company that creates management system for schools called Drawp. Ana’s journey is one of creative problem-solving, trial and error and personal resilience. In this clip below she discusses her first experiences with coding, the divisions between theory and practice and her roundabout pathway into designing for education.
Ana’s pathway through school, university and into the male dominated world of science and technology speaks to her grit and passion for learning. Which led me to ask her about how she found this inner resilience that opened the many doors throughout her life. As educators, we often think that learning or doing something quickly and correctly is a sign that someone will succeed in a given field, but Ana shows us that the belief in our own capacity to succeed is more important than quickness at school.
Resilience was one of the major factors that Ana believes was a game changer in her life, but creativity brought her where she is today. Her ability to find the creative aspects of science and technology largely stemmed from her passion for the Arts, something she shares with many scientists.
On the Future of STEAM
Finally I asked Ana about her opinion on the maker movement and what she thought would play the most important factor in getting more women interested in STEAM.
Ana’s story is one of inspiration and the unflagging belief in one’s own abilities; if we are looking to find modern day female role model for our young women, Ana is surely one of them. With an increased awareness of this growing divide in the STEAM fields, educators and parents alike can expose our students/children to more role models that speak to both genders in the hopes that it inspires a levelling of the field.
The LEARN community of bloggers is made up of pedagogical consultants, teachers and other educators working on a variety of LEARN projects. Together, we represent a wide spectrum of professional experience and opinions about education in the 21st century, especially when it comes to the anglophone community of Quebec, Canada. Learn Teaching and Learning blog.