Makerspaces: Re-making education

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on March 26, 2016

Photo of a makerspace in action.Makerspace has become one of the new buzzwords in education.  A Google search of makerspace will return approximately 400,000 results.  Makerspaces are showing up in schools across the country—but what is a makerspace and how does it impact education?

A makerspace is simply a do-it-yourself place where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. In schools, it’s a hands-on way to encourage students to design, build and invent.  Many think of these labs as technology centers focusing on robotics and high-tech fabricating, but a makerspace could include activities such as woodworking, cardboard construction or even sewing.  Materials to stock can range from simple items like craft paper, markers, crayons, glue, modeling clay,  and Legos to be more high-tech items like wires, circuits, batteries, resistors, switches, and motors.  Tools might range from sewing machines to 3D printers. (Here’s one example of an inventory list for your makerspace.)

Planning your makerspace

Before you start building your space, you need to first consider what types of activities and projects could be done there.  Administration would brainstorm with staff (preferably including math, science, art and technology teachers) who will or possibly could use the space.  Once it is determined who will be using the space, the next item to discuss is which tools are needed.   Depending on the ideas and activities brainstormed, the space required for materials and project storage can be firmed up.  Will you need a new structure or can you use existing space? Consider renovations such as updates to electrical systems, plumbing and safety equipment you might need.

Another key topic for discussion is who will have access to the space.  Will you have the community using the space and if so, who is staffing and managing it in off-school hours?  If you are focusing your makerspace on students only, you then need to decide if the space is open all day or perhaps students will visit in a dedicated class time with their teacher.

But why?

So, we have discussed how to create your space, but let’s look at why you would want such a space to begin with. That goes back to what a makerspace is: a place to “create, invent, and learn.”  In this environment, you will see students creating open-ended projects and collaborating with each other.  They will be engaged in creative expression and reflect on what they have created.  This curiosity and interest create the type of youth-driven culture for learning in your building that all administrators strive to create.  These spaces promote experimentation with a cross-disciplinary focus that engages multiple staff members.  Students see how the very same tools, techniques, and process skills are found and required in the physics lab, art studio, and auto shop.  Makerspaces are a powerful way to move from a “winners and losers” mentality to one of “every student succeeds!”

 

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Country mice visit Big Apple cousins

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on January 27, 2015

Cartoon mouse staring at computer screenYou know the story. The city mouse goes to visit his country cousin. When the country mouse offers him a meal of simple country food, he sneers at it and invites his cousin to the city for a taste of the good life. But their feast in the city goes wrong when a couple of hungry cats move in and they barely escape with their lives. The country mouse returns home, preferring a life of simplicity to a life of risk and its rewards.

According to Wikipedia, the story can be traced back to Classical Greece literature. Many of the assumptions of country life such as the simplicity and lack of opportunities can still be found in 2015. In October, I had the opportunity to travel with a group of Arkansas educators to visit four schools in New York City. What we observed blurs the lines of country and city education.

We visited four schools including an elementary, middle school, high school and a technical high school. In each setting we saw great things happening but also observed a common theme. As we asked what technology they used in their daily instructions, each principal pointed out the interactive white boards recently installed in all rooms. Each principal also acknowledged that they were working on teacher training to make the technology more student centered and not so teacher centered. That is a problem we in Arkansas could relate to, but that was an issue for the majority of our state educators five to ten years ago. Our NYC counterparts were surprised when we mentioned we have schools moving from the boards to large flat screen TVs that mirror the devices the students have in their hands.

We did not see buildings that had any one-to-one classrooms (or 2-to-1, not even 5-to-1). The schools did have labs, but in most classrooms there was a teacher computer and the interactive whiteboard.

In the high school we visited, we saw a program that is similar to the EAST Initiative we have in Arkansas. It was VEI (Virtual Enterprise International.) VEI replicates all the functions of real businesses in both structure and practice. Under the guidance of a teacher-facilitator and business mentors, students create and manage their virtual businesses from product development, production and distribution to marketing, sales, human resources, accounting/finance and web design. VEI firms offer diverse products and services—from banking, insurance, and technology to publishing, advertising, app creation, tourism, and fashion. The specific program we visited was TSquared, which has only been in existence for a couple of years but is already award winning.

Classroom technology in Arkansas is far from perfect but it has shown growth and development over the past two decades. When lawmakers and educators discuss technology in the classroom today, computers are only one element of the equation. SMART boards, compressed video, Internet access, and a wide array of software tools are just a few examples of the educational technologies currently at our disposal.

In the November 2014 election, New York Bonds for School Technology passed. The investment of the two billion dollar bonds will focus on school technology upgrades including purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet.

The same tools should be able to drive networks of innovation in cities as well as in our rural areas. And it is happening. It is happening in the country, it is happening in the city, and it will hopefully continue throughout this decade. We share many of the same issues; dealing with students in poverty, single family homes, long transportation routes (ours are on a school bus and not a subway), all while implementing new programs and educating students. When the country mouse and the city mouse get together in 2020, they will find they have more in common than they expect.

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Revisit Our Assumptions About “Digital Natives?”

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on May 8, 2014

I am not an avid subscriber to YouTube channels, but I do have a favorite—TheFineBros.  I love their series Kids React.  Created in 2010, it features Fine brothers Benny and Rafi off camera showing kids, ages 5 to 14, videos or introducing topics for discussion. New clips are released weekly.

Black rotary dial telephone with red indicator light
The rotary telephone – a spiffy model with red indicator light.

In the last month, two clips made me laugh and feel old! The content of the first video dealt with how kids reacted to rotary phones. The second looked at their response to a Walkman. In the discussion of phones, kids were presented a rotary phone. The question was, “Where have you seen this?” Answers ranged from in the movies to reading about it in a history lesson. Most admitted they had no idea how to work the phone and did not know how to dial. It was quickly agreed they would not want to use it because it would take too long. When asked what a “busy signal” meant, one boy suggested it meant something was “loading.” All agreed they wanted to keep their iPhones.

A fan of the classics

As the Fine brothers debriefed, some kids reflected on how technology has advanced. They wanted to know if you could text with a rotary phone, and they felt using one would make it harder to call each other because both parties had to be home. However, one boy did say he liked rotary phones and stated, “I’m a fan of classics!”

Watching the clip, I realized most children have had no exposure to the phone I grew up using. They see the symbol of a handset on their iPhone but do not make the connection of where that icon originated. Yet It was only about 20 years ago that land lines were the standard, because cell phones were too expensive and impractical. DSL or cable Internet was something only the rich families had, so most computers connected to the internet using the same phone line that you needed in order to make calls.

Sony Walkman cassette player with earphones
The Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979.

The Walkman clip was just as funny—and just as depressing! When presented with a Walkman, initial comments included, “What is this, a walkie-talkie?” and, “What do I do?” One girl knew it was a cassette player but needed help to find the on button. They were told they needed a cassette tape but they did not know what that was. When given a cassette, they asked how to put it in. A few of the children stated they were not going to give up but felt it was “so hard.”

You have to do stuff!

After pressing play they were frustrated because they couldn’t hear any sound. They tried to solve the problem by turning up volume but were told they had to have headphones. When given headphones, one girl stated that her grandpa had them. When they finally got the player going, one girl said she felt “so accomplished” but another said it took forever and was too complicated. One of the more telling statements was when a girl said she felt “lazy” saying so, “but you have to do stuff.” One boy remarked that he “could not imagine living in your day.” Others said they “felt bad” for people living in the 90s.

After watching these videos, I thought about the generalizations adults, especially educators, make about “digital natives.” We assume all technology is easy for students to learn since they were born into a technology-focused society. Yet, if we assume students know everything about technology, aren’t we limiting their opportunities to learn and ask questions?

Experience not age?

Maybe it’s time we look at basing the terms digital native and digital immigrant on experience rather than age. Some users over 30 are very technology savvy while we have students that lack tech skills due to lack of exposure in their educational settings or lack of access at home. Educators need to remember everyone has their own skill set and comfort level with technology. We need to be able to meet the learning needs of all. Don’t be afraid to teach technology skills when needed or pair students up for peer tutoring. Perhaps most important of all, make your professional growth goal to become a digital native yourself to better enable you to convert those immigrants in your classroom! While you’re at it, check out Kids React and the other series on TheFineBros.

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Ignite—rapid fire presentations!

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on December 5, 2010

Bored by tedious PowerPoint presentations?    Recently, I learned about two alternatives worth your consideration.

I was working with a team to plan a technology conference for 100 technology teacher leaders in our state when our keynote speaker, Tony Vincent, introduced us to “Pecha Kucha.”  To me it sounded like a character from a video game, and my two technology geek friends were clueless as well.  In fact, Pecha Kucha is a presentation format that restricts each presenter to 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds.  The slides are set to advance automatically to ensure the time limit is honored.  Ultimately, each presenter has just 6 minutes 40 seconds to explain  ideas.

Yet even with that short time frame, we realized we would not have enough time for everyone to create and show a Pecha Kucha.  Mr. Vincent had an immediate answer: Ignite.  In this even briefer format, participants are given five minutes to speak accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are advanced automatically.  We agreed to give it a try and have an Ignite showcase the final day of the conference.  After all, how hard could this be, right?

We built time into the conference for participants to work on their presentations—either alone or with a group.  On showcase day we drew names to see who would have the opportunity to take the stage and share.  We allowed time for 18 presentations.  Sounds long until you do the math and see it’s only 90 minutes of total presentation time!    We had a variety of topics that ranged from parent involvement to Wikispaces in education to the impact your skin color has on others’ perceptions of you.  Using wiffiti, participants gave feedback on each presentation, which kept everyone engaged during transitions between speakers.

The overall feeling of the group was that preparing to give this type of presentation is not as easy as it looks!  It takes a lot of thoughtful planning to get the timing down and to get your message across in your allotted time.  However, the benefits are great.  (If fact, if teachers adopted this style of information sharing it might capture some of that the much-discussed shrinking attention span of students who are not being engaged in their learning and are bored in class!)

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My Magic Pen

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on January 20, 2010

I remember the first time I heard Bill Daggett speak.  It was probably ten years ago when I was beginning my job at an education service center in Arkansas.  One of the upcoming innovations he discussed was a “magic pen.”  He described this as a computer in a pen.  My first thought was that if such a pen were already invented, I’d buy one!  I was about to return to school for an administration certification and thought how much easier such a pen would make my life.

Fast forward seven years.  The magic pen was a reality and I had my first experience with one.  It was not favorable.  I was on an audit team that was piloting the use of a digital pen to upload observation data.  The pen doubled our work!  First, we took classroom observation and interview notes on regular paper; then, we had to rewrite everything on special paper provided with the digital pen.  The problem was aggravated by kinks in the software.

Given that negative experience, I was in no hurry to try out later versions of the magic pen.  My attitude changed, however, at the NECC 09 conference.  I was trying to recall something the keynote speaker had said when a friend of mine whipped out his digital pen, touched it to paper, and out came the speaker’s voice!  This magic pen had not only captured the text but also the audio of the presentation.

Now that is a computer in a pen.  I bought one and love it.  It helps me never miss a word and records everything I hear, say and write, as well as providing links between my audio recordings and my notes.  It has become a life saver in our board meetings.  It is very helpful for clarifing motions and makes taking minutes simple.  Our content specialists use it in demonstration lessons with teachers to model student interviews.

And new functions keep coming.  Recently launched apps help you with such tasks as translating phrases into other languages, checking facts on all sorts of subjects, listening to classical music, and even playing a guitar.  I look forward to continuing to learn more uses for my “magic pen!”  (Oh, in case you were wondering, mine is a “Pulse” pen by Livescribe; view it and other brands here.)

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