WestCAST 2019 – Calgary

By the time you read this edition, WestCAST will be in our rear view mirror.  I hope you attended and took with you a couple of gems to add to your classroom.  So many of the presentations are timely and current to developing a compelling, interesting, engaging classroom at all levels from K-12.

From virtual reality to microbits and storytelling to experiential learning, there was something for everyone.  It was a great opportunity to get together, meet and network and learn a few new strategies to apply to your practice.  I was so fortunate to present in one workshop and one presentation.

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I participated in “Learning through Making: How do we design and assess the learning?” Following from many successful “making” workshops, this one added the assessment piece to the making experience.  How do teachers assess what is happening in the makerspace with students?  What are the components that make a rich task and that empower students take the reins of their learning and see it through.  Once our participants could experience our Survivor style task and reflect on the skills and knowledge needed to complete the exercise, they could also surmise some of the key assessment elements.  Looking in depth at one specific element helped our participants visualize what assessment of students taking part in “maker” tasks might look like.

During “Let’s see what happens: The importance of being earnestly curious,” we looked at specific resources that piqued our curiosity and made for great workshop or classroom teaching.  We challenged participants to get curious by setting a goal to subscribe or visit a website that would prompt them to be curious about a variety of things.  Curiosity is a habit of mind that can be cultivated so easily with the internet at our fingertips but also can be sparked without any digital media by simply observing, albeit, a little more closely, our busy lives.  Participants who came to this session, hopefully, left a little more curious than when they came in.

If you didn’t have a chance to participate in WestCAST this year, please mark your calendars for next year because it was a great experience and challenged all of us to try a new strategy or two and to include some new ideas in our teaching and our learning.  Next year’s conference will be at University of British Columbia – stay tuned.

 

Makerspaces Today

Do you think you could convert your classroom to a makerspace today for, say, 30 minutes?  I would bet the toughest thing about the plan would be keeping it at 30 minutes.  Look around your classroom.  Use the recycling.  Do you have #Lego? K’Nex? Wooden blocks?

Making is not always about the technology you have. Sometimes, it is putting the discovery in the hands of your students.  Every curriculum year has many opportunities to replace the learning with some doing.

Learning by doing is where education is headed and most teachers already have put in place some of this type of lesson. Building bridges in grade 3 or classroom chemistry in grade 4 are both examples of some hands-on learning in the classroom.

Are you looking for a successful outcome? Yes, but, keep in mind that the outcome may be the experience and not the artifact.  Building a dream home out of recycling may be quite interpretive and need some talk time with the teacher to explain the vision.

Many students spend their creative time on-line with games like #Minecraft so, in the absence of a whole classroom set of technology, learning can become reality, replacing their virtual reality.

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Give it a try! Many maker moments will be what students remember from their classroom time.

Is Every Student a Maker?

As with every “new” education buzzword, “making” is becoming an appealing idea for educators to gather around.  If you have spent any time at all in the education community, you know that ideas like “making” have their 15 minutes of fame and then move out of the limelight for a newer theory.

Making, though not necessarily in Makerspaces, has been around for many years under the clunkier title, “constructionist learning.”  In many classrooms, educators gravitated toward this type of teaching and learning to engage learners who were difficult  to reach otherwise.

In my opinion, making is here to stay.  It will become a natural part of the school library or, hopefully, even the classroom to engage students.  Making will become another tool for educators to use to engage learners, much the way they now introduce learning in a variety of ways to reach out to many learning styles.

With the unprecedented access to information that students have, educators must move forward from knowledge holders and presenters to information mentors.  Students can freely access the information necessary for most of their learning. Educators will guide students to use this information to build curriculum foundations as well as lifelong learning skills supporting curiosity and imagination.

The notion of creating STEM learners from making is a natural conclusion.  Most STEM learners are innovative and engaged in some hands-on activity.  Once all students are exposed to a maker environment, many more will follow their learning into experimentation and design.  In this way, educators will give wings to students’ curiosity.

Are all students makers? Yes.  All students have the capacity to take knowledge from most environments.  Each student should not be expected to create an innovative, never-before-seen artifact but to acquire skills and knowledge that moves their learning forward and tempts their curiosity. If a student willingly makes the makerspace a comfortable place to investigate and experiment, then, yes, all students will be makers.