Saturday, February 27, 2016

Personalized Learning + STEAM Design Challenges

I opened my very first Maker's Space in the classroom four years ago while teaching gifted second graders.  I had read about Genius Hour, 20% Time, and other types of ways to engage students in building critical and creative thinking skills.  I was very familiar with project-based learning it was embedded in our teacher-created curriculum before it was popular in the wider world of education. I was compelled by the idea of co-creating a unit of study with my students, however.  I wondered if they would be able to take responsibility for designing and completing their own project to show their learning.  I wondered if I would be able to mange many different projects, rather than one large performance task that all students engaged in.  I wondered if we would all have the stamina and skills to work through the messiness of projects AND show achievement on school division learner objectives.  As I reflect on these early Maker Space opportunities, I realize now that was how I dipped my toe into the personalized learning pool.

I was pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic, motivated, and engaged students were during our Maker Space times.  I was shocked that all students achieved at a level higher than expected, even those who consistently performed below expectations prior to the Maker Space implementation. Perhaps it was because I used many tools to keep the learning on track?  I used Treffinger's Creative Problem Solving Tools to assist with problem solving along the way.  I used the SCAMPER tool often to help students think beyond the literal when designing new or hybrid inventions.  Together we watched many YouTube and SchoolTube videos to learn how to program our Raspberry Pi, create simple circuits on paper, and record videos and podcasts.  To keep the focus on learner objectives I created 'to do' posters and choice boards.  I incorporated exit tickets, simple rating systems and a student conference schedule to check for understanding throughout the course of our units.

I continue to use these very tools today.  I have added a few suggested activities, though.  At the beginning of each Maker Space session, the students and I meet to set our intentions.  We review our learner objectives, individual SMART goals, and consult team planning pages.  We set our agreements for the time period.  We role play appropriate ways to take brain breaks as well as keep our teammates on task.  One caring student created a quiet corner filled with books, a laptop, and some quiet fidget-toys.  He informed all of us we could use it during those times when we needed a break from the 'heavy thinking' or from our partners.  My goal here is for students to make the connections between their work and their learner objectives.  I want to help answer the question, "Why do we have to learn_____?"

I set the timer on my phone which reminds me to stop during the session to conduct a "Stop, Drop and Analyze" where I ask students the following:
What is working for you right now?
What stage of the design process are you in?  Why?
What is not working for you?  What do we need to change or modify?

At the end of each session, we debrief.  We review our learner objectives.  We celebrate successes as students share those with the whole group.  We conduct a gap analysis and write down items we need to work on during the next session.  For example, during this last session, students noted they needed to talk less and work more.  They also decided they need to assign jobs and share the workload more with each other.  These two stretch goals went on our agenda for the next session.

Finally, we review the pictures and videos we took during the session.  I challenged the students to help me document their progress.  Their pictures and videos are so much fun to watch, and educational, too.  For me, these artifacts serve as the best learning opportunities.  I liken it to how football coaches use videos to teach players new plays and critique performance.

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