Learning Task Design – Part II

In Part II of Learning Task Design you will find me “eating my words” about my Survivor Task Design.  And you never know, as I continue to learn about task design, I may be adding to this internal struggle of mine.

Task Design is a part science and part art form.  My bible of Maker learning, Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager suggests that the best tasks are those prompted by students’ questions.  Allowing students to direct their learning by posing the initial question provides intrinsic motivation and results in engaged learning.


Martinez and Stager have specific advice when it comes to a great prompt: brevity, ambiguity and immunity to assessment.  This advice goes contrary to what I tried, recently,  in a “Survivor Challenge.” Trying to set out a scenario where students were led to a very narrow silo of solutions, in hindsight, seems controlling and unnatural.  Ambiguity is the most difficult of these hints to concede.  In lessening the task designer’s control on the prompt, the outcomes becomes less predictable but students are also given free rein to explore various outcomes.

As I am working through these various tasks, designs and outcomes, I am forming my “personal design philosophy.”  Each concrete practice paired with design literature help to move our Maker tasks closer to a pure design experience. While The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman does not cater to the field of education but to all types of design, it does give a solid foundation for design learning. “Design is about evoking, or creating, the ideal in the real.” (p.39) These are powerful words to emulate in a maker environment.


It is a steep learning curve from my conventional learning habits but it is exciting to explore the implementation of this student-centred learning that encourages creative thinking for teachers and students.

Both books are currently available at the Doucette Library.

Task Design

After hosting 3 maker workshops here in the Library, it is clear that good task design is essential.

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A good task for a desired outcome has many, many constraints and boundaries similar to those authentic real life situations facilitators are trying to mimic.

For good design thinking and problem identification, a task must ensure students have as much information as possible to bump up against when designing a prototype.  Working through the task with a focus group allows the facilitator to “see” what issues are brought forth and rework the task if necessary.

Again, that old friend, “experience” is the best way to learn good task design.  Looking at examples that other makers have used does not always tell the whole story.

This one example will help illustrate the task design issue we encountered.  Once the design was established and we thought we had covered all the bases in our “Survivor” Challenge, we added a photo of a volcanic island on the cover page of the task information.  Students zoned in on a small island pictured in the photo but not mentioned in the task and designed their whole solution based on a bridge to the island.  A cautionary tale to reinforce the idea that all materials in your design package are usable. 108006

Experiment with tasks, especially with a focus group and redesign if necessary.  Maker tasks are new to me and I’m willing to learn from my design “flaws” and hone my skills to create the best maker tasks for students.  Through my learning, I can guide those who are taking their experience into their classrooms.

App of the Week – My Naughty Shadow HD e-book


My Naughty Shadow has a wonderful rhythm and story that would appeal to those preschool story lovers.  The familiar refrain of “What a naughty shadow” is perfect to remember and recite in a sing-song voice.

The special effects show the shadow having more fun that the girl in the story, playing tricks on her and increasingly showing different activities.

I like the interactivity which is not showy or “gamey” in any fashion but is truly related to the story and a natural outcome of the action on each page.

I think a preschool child would go back again and again to the story for it simple, repetitive story line and fun interaction.

App of the Week – Robots

Robots from IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers


  • Free
  • Version 1.6
  • 521 MB (big)
  • Grades 6-12

Robots is available for download on iPads from the App Store.  Beware of the large app size.  That being said, it would be a worthwhile download for all grades – not just the grade 6-12 range that is associated with the app.

Robots contains specs and video or moving photos of 150 robots from 16 different countries.  Students have input through the ratings system, up to five stars, questions like would you want to have this robot, and an appearance rating based on relative creepiness.

Robot “News” requires an internet connection but updates recent inventions and developments in technology that are important to robotics.

“Play” is not very exciting.  It mostly pits robot against robot and students pick the one they think would win.

“Learn” begins with what a robot is, and documents various pivotal inventions that contributed to the development of modern day robots.  There is also a Timeline and a Glossary of Robotics.

This app would be great to have on ipads that students use to learn but also for them to browse for information.  It would appeal to those with robot knowledge but even to those without much robot knowledge.

Robots has a very attractive topic but does it justice with the information contained within the app.

Being a Maker Facilitator

Being a facilitator in a Maker Space is thrilling and scary, all at the same time.  One thing a teacher must let go of is the outcome.  Teachers like to see product.  They like to see an outcome, a right answer, a correctable result.  This end result is not always as expected in a Maker Space.

Although this concept is difficult for most teachers to let go of, there is a wonderful freedom in the unknown.  Assessment is ongoing, and results from the interactions that occur between facilitator and student, student and student, sometimes mentor and student, depending on who you have invited into your space.

The sticky part is the letting go.  Do you know what the outcome of this experiment is? Let the answer be “no” sometimes.  Tell your students you don’t know how it will work out and see them strive to provide you with an outcome.  Not knowing will result in a feeling of conspiracy between you and your students.  A class seldom has the luxury of learning along with the teacher.  Isn’t there an expectation, especially in elementary school, that the teacher knows ALL.

So, take you teacher hat off, put your facilitator goggles on and let loose.  See what happens.  Maybe there is no easy solution or no solution at all, but the authentic learning along the way will be worth the experience.


Apps of the Week – Worthwhile Mental Math Apps

  • imgres
  • Math Duel App
  • Version 2.1
  • $3.49
  • Ages 9-11
  • 9.0MB

Okay, don’t get all new math on me.  Sometimes a good dose of mental math is not a bad thing.  It is the foundation on which to build the other math skills.

Math Duel is just plain fun.  Your ipad appears in split screen to accommodate two players facing each other.  And the duel begins.  At any level you want… from pretty basic to pretty tough.  Test multiplication, addition, division and subtraction skills.  Time it! Make it competitive and we have ourselves a math duel.

Challenge yourself with these three mental math apps, all by the same company.  Again, there are many levels to challenge various students in all types of equations.  Each set of questions is timed and a student can move progressively into more difficult territory.  Once students have developed confidence with their own mental math skills, they continue to progress with more complex equations.  And they can figure out the tip at a restaurant for everyone else or separate the bills and add the tip.

“Evil Genius Hour”

Many schools and libraries in the United States created Genius Hours as part of their technology outreach time.  Although appealing, I wanted to attract the student who, while embodying genius, also has a high risk threshold.  Aren’t these some of the most interesting students? The ones who, not naming names, attach their LEGO Robot to as many sensors as a certain librarian will provide.

We have scheduled 3 “Evil Genius Hours” on consecutive Thursday afternoons. In the first week, we will be discovering what kind of genius gamers we have among our students.  In a collaborative setting, students will create a game, rules and all, and play it with their counterparts.

Week 2 will provide a Hot Wheels Challenge.  Remember the small metal cars with the giant orange loop-de-loop track? We will find out how to use new kits like MaKey-MaKey to engage students in some time/distance experiments.

Week 3 will experiment with a Survivor type challenge.  From ideating to prototyping, students will work through the process of design-thinking.

All of these workshops are aimed at learning how to imagine, design, construct, and innovate.  We will not be providing the answers but each learning experience will be just that – an experience. Hopefully students will replicate this experience in their own classrooms.