Tie And Jeans

Archive for the tag “planning”

Encapsulation Injection Simulation

In a rare fit of great planning, I married an exceptional history teacher before I fell into #MakerEd. Over years of conversations, we’ve brainstormed dozens of different places where MakerEd can support/augment/extend history as an academic discipline experienced by students.

We’ve also developed a loose framework to categorize and discuss about those experiences, more as a personal shorthand than a desire to compete with SAMR, RAT or other “explain the world” acronyms. I generalize from this framework, but it’s also very tied to the specifics of 6–12 single subject history.

This isn’t a hierarchical system. I’m also going to try to use phrases like “traditional classroom learning” as neutral. Wish me luck.

Encapsulation, Injection, Simulation

Encapsulation covers any instance where the making wraps around a chunk traditional classroom learning. Students are making/building something that serves as a platform for them to present curricular content they’ve acquired.
Encapsulation is incredibly useful and versatile. Many making experiences are pretty neutral, so they’re not tied to a particular subject or concept. They also fit easily into teacher’s planning model, normally slotting in to replace some other form of summative assessment project. Susan’s great Lilypad-powered “speaking quilt” has nice resonance with us history, but is just as applicable in a math or science course. At the most basic level, an encapsulated MakerEd provides a new creative platform for students to present their academic learning.

We’ve been using injection to refer to maker experiences that don’t directly replace some part of the traditional classroom learning cycle (pre-assess, research, content delivery, formative/summative assessment). When trying to develop an injection project for history, I start by asking questions about the tools and materials. What T&M that were part of everyday lived experience in that culture? Which new or developing T&M had a dramatic effect on that experience? In nerdy, non-academic terms, I’m often simplifying actual history to Civ terms. What’s step on the tech tree enabled this cultural moment or eliminated it? For colonial history, I’m a huge fan of building some fires to explore cooking techniques with open ovens. More broadly, I want students to make something from or closely analogous to a period tool.
These projects don’t provide good opportunities for assessing the content knowledge of individual students. Instead, they do provide a robust skeleton on which students can hang their developing knowledge. In terms of classroom routine, I’m not sure there’s a better anchor and timer for a history discussion than sitting around an outdoor brick fire waiting for tea water to boil in an iron kettle. In terms of classroom time and instructional minutes, injection projects cost more. I view that cost as an investment in deeper, more lasting student understanding and connection to the material, but I admit that’s primarily belief.

We call the last category simulation, and it covers all experiences where students spend extended time trying to “live” inside the content in some way. History has a well established tradition of simulation exercises, and making/technology offers easy ways to extend those. Classroom simulations of the Constitutional convention become far more involving if all students are RP-ing particular delegates on a social media platform (our 7th grade teachers called it WhigBook last year) for the multi-week duration. For history simulations, the thing students are “making” is a compelling portrayal of an individual in a particular historical moment. There’s similar opportunities for other content areas, from predator/prey systems or fanfic extensions of literature. I think there’s an argument to be made that many challenge/experiment projects (hair-dryer cars, water bottle rockets) are essentially simulations. The made project is nice, but we’re really asking kids to inhabit the role of engineer/designer for a few weeks. History can add in CS by moving the simulation into a MOO/MUSH, where students are both creating the environment and RP-ing the personalities. I guess you could even use SecondLife, but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that even a text only MUSH looks less dated than SecondLife.

Again, these are informal, conversational, non-hierarchical categories.

When specifically talking about history, Jodi posits another category of intellectual experience that I haven’t been able to directly pull back to the physical world. She refers to this as abstraction, where students can evaluate principles/values/beliefs from one cultural period through the lens of another. In general, I want a making experience to set a goal that unavoidably routes students through the thick mud of research, cognition, and reflection. I haven’t found a generalizable idea for physical things that “force” kids to engage in that abstraction. My closest thought experiment is modifying Heather’s monument project and have students create two monuments for different “sides” of a historical event, or create a monument and the accompanying protest. Ugh. I’m not even happy with those basic examples.

While this year I’ve been planning through transdisciplinary themes, Encapsulation, Injection, Simulation was my framework when planning MakerEd (and tech!) integration in years past. If a teacher wanted MakerEd to fit into a specific academic unit, I almost always went with encapsulation. That way I could bring a different experience to students, provide the teacher with the opportunity to watch students learning through the design cycle, and hopefully generate some nice artifacts. Without that specific curricular tie, I could look for an injection project, knowing that I could work with the teacher to trim some content requirements and devise observation/assessment protocols.

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Making Makers Better

When I described my last post as bittersweet, some feedback wondered where I found *any* note of positivity.  On reflection, I left out the hugely important bedrock truths that, for me, leavened my litany of failure.
First, “Hey, I got to teach a Maker’s class this year!  Ungraded! Kids using soldering irons, drills and Dremels for the first time!”

Second, “Hey, I get to run it again next year!  Twice!”
The reaction from kids and the school has been overwhelmingly positive. Most of this year’s 7th graders signed up to try again next fall. An even larger group of rising 7th graders signed up for spring. This is awesome.

I needed to plunge through all the glaring problems because, in most cases, they were aspects that were only visible to me.  If I don’t document them now, when they still hurt, then they’d easily slip away.

After a long weekend of reflection, I’ve managed to build a positive framework for ways I can prepare for and improve next year’s Makers.
First and foremost, I need to take ownership over fundamental aspects of classroom structure.  I need to recognize the distinction between establishing practices that form culture and compelling students to follow “because I said so” rules.
I need to build a class structure where students feeling frustrated or uninspired can do something to help out a peer on their own task. Our group needs a big board that tracks everyone’s current and back-up project, along with a tweet-length log-line of what the next step should be.  Ideally, this would mean that frustrated kid who “can’t do *anything*” would have their two “next steps”, along with 5 or 6 others, to choose from.

I think that’s viable, but it’s also a lot of metacognition for 7th and 8th graders.

A “next steps” project chart that depends on students from day one doesn’t work. I need to not only build the document, but also I need to establish the practice.  When we start working on separate projects, there will already be “next-steps” from one or two whole-class projects*.  This doesn’t force anyone to abandon their interests in favor of mine. Instead it allows students to walk into an environment where both the collaborative projects and metacognition are being modeled, and they can gradually step up to assume ownership of those aspects.
Everyone codes. We’ll start using Scratch 4 Arduino, since they’re already familiar with the Scratch environment and it builds the basic intuition about we can use numeric values to perform actions in software. This was a major hurdle for students using Arduino’s this year, even for those who felt comfortable working with LEDs and modifying sample code.

I need to model and create a culture of active reflection and planning. Maybe a “tweet to reserve” tool system that rewards planning and consistent engagement, rather than coercive social pressure (aka, whining).

Buy 3 of every kit, two for simultaneous use and a third for reference/parts. No one builds alone.

No new project starts until we’ve identified an expert source and I’ve helped students make contact.  Rather than pointing out an email address and saying “go for it”, I need to build a clear support system for how this happens. These are kids who have, as a rule, never cold-emailed anyone, ever. In the first week, I’ll present a basic contact letter template, with a boiler-plate description of our school and our class. In that same time period, we’ll choose one forum/support community so that everyone in class will have their own account and be able to reach out as an individual. If we find that we need to post on other forums, I’ll make class-accounts and maintain a page of login credentials.

We need a clear distinction between project parts and puttering parts. Bins with lids and labels big enough to store 60-row breadboards would be a good start.

I need to figure out a system where students have more control over purchasing new materials. I spent a few hundred dollars out of pocket this semester, but those purchases were too sporadic and often didn’t completely cover what the project needed.  Maybe making purchases on a fixed schedule will help with that ($50 a week from Jameco/DigiKey/Adafruit). For new projects that aren’t kit-based, students will need to have their outside expert check over their parts list before ordering.  That alone could have saved the EL-Wire glasses.
* I think this clearly mandates my favorite summer imperative ever:  “Acquire beat-up pinball machine.”

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