Podcast Featuring Students-Why EVERY Student Should Have Makerspace Learning Opportunities

A group of 5th graders and I have been working closely on diving into Makerspace type learning and thinking. Students have explored the concept of thinking differently in a variety of ways.

Background

But, before we jump into how we learned and our podcast, it is important to discuss the meaning behind our reasoning. Although the new and shiny Makerspace gadgets are pretty cool, what is more important is the thinking behind it. You can have all the robots and gadgets that Amazon has to offer, but if the focus is misguided and focused solely on the tool, we can hinder the growth of our students. But, when done with intention, Makerspace type learning allows for students to be curious inventors and creators, rather than being static and rote problem solvers.

In the blog, Curiosity Commons, there is a fantastic post that highlights the benefits of Makerspaces called, “Makerspaces: The Benefits.”  One of my favorite quotes within this post is:


“Maker education fosters curiosity, tinkering, and iterative learning, which in turn leads to better thinking through better questioning.  I believe firmly that this learning environment fosters enthusiasm for learning, student confidence, and natural collaboration. Ultimately the outcome of maker education and educational makerspaces leads to determination, independent and creative problem solving, and an authentic preparation for real world by simulating real-world challenges.”


Needless to say, Makerspace learning is incredible, and our kids agree!

The Podcast

While working with the 5th-grade students, we glanced over at our new Snowball Ice Microphone and we thought to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we shared our learning of Makerspaces with the world?” After we had this initial thought, students started saying things like, “Every student should get a chance to learn like this. Let’s create a podcast about Makerspaces and send it out to as many teachers and students as we can” and “I hope our podcast can make another kids life better!”

Here is our Snowball Ice Microphone- The quality is pretty sharp for $49.

Remarkably enough, within a couple of minutes, we plugged the microphone in and started recording the podcast on the spot. Students asked if I could host and they could give the insight! So, here is our organic podcast that we created in 10 minutes with zero editing, just pure excitement for learning and sharing; Click the orange “play” button below to listen.

Highlights from the Podcast

Students discussed the power of Makerspaces and how it helps with:

  • problem-solving “real” problems that can change the world

  • creating new things

  • the “important kind” of teamwork

Our 5th graders also discussed the power of using YouTube to foster learning, so I challenge you to ask this question in your classroom:

I was in awe by the way our students eloquently stated their thoughts with such a candid and authentic approach. I love seeking out opportunities to hear their perspectives to help me learn and grow. As one of our students said during the recording:


“When we work in groups we are just solving problems, like math problems. Whoever solves it then solves it, and that’s it! It’s over. But, with Makerspace learning you just can’t do everything on your own, you have to work together.” 


Beautifully stated and powerful. Give Makerspace learning a try and even share this podcast with your students or teachers. If you are looking for Makerspace resources, give this website MakerEd a try.

Also, our students would LOVE some positive feedback or questions about the podcast. Please comment below!

Here is the Chibi Lights LED Circuitboard our students created and referenced during the podcast

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The Power of Student Learning Playlists

Student learning playlists are a unique way to personalize learning for students. Many educators are taking various versions of this approach to differentiate learning for their students.

I first heard about learning playlists through reading articles and posts about Alt School.

On Alt School’s website, they describe their playlists with the following explanation,

“Playlist is a set of tools that enables educators to manage what each child does to meet his or her personalized learning goals, and functions as a customized workspace for students to cultivate agency by managing their own work. Educators create, sequence, and remix curriculum units to curate Playlists where students can view assignments, communicate with their teacher, and submit work generated on- and off-line. Education teams provide feedback and assessments that update students’ Portrait in real time. Playlist allows educators to help students accelerate in any areas where they are already advanced, and work on areas that require more attention and development.”

Immediately after reading about this, I loved the idea but wanted to take our own spin on it based on our students’ needs and the separate set of technology resources we had.

Hence, to get started with learning playlists, I knew I wanted to try this with a few students in a small group first. I thought that this would give me more information on what worked and what did not work before I implemented the design with an entire class.

Brainstorming

The lovely Ms. Montgomery, who teaches 4th grade at my school, is always such a risk-taker; She is willing to try anything and everything to help her students succeed. Before starting the learning playlists, Ms. Montgomery and I first met to look at student data and achievement. Through this, we decided to begin learning playlists with a few students who needed more challenging learning activities.

Before moving any further, we met with the students to ask their input. Although Ms. Montgomery and I initially steered the students to goals that would most benefit them, our students decided to create a brainstorming list of goals they wanted to work on. After looking through their previous work, and thinking about the area in which they needed the most guidance and extension, this particular student chose to focus on “main idea and details” and highlighted her choice.

What I love about the brainstorming doc is that students can continue to go back and add thoughts or goals to work on at another opportunity. See a student-created sample below via Google Docs:

The Playlists

Here is a sample playlist:

 

First, I started learning playlists with two students who had two different learning goals. We met weekly face-to-face for one hour, but in between these sessions, students can ask me questions on a classroom I created through Recap.

Let me break down the organization of my playlist format:

  • At the top, students type their name next to “Learning Playlist”
  • Goal: Students write in the goal/target they decided upon with the teacher.
  • Track: Tracks are learning activities that can be online or offline. Some are videos, creations, games, podcasts, hands-on activities, and more. If the activity is online, hyperlink it.
  • Track Info: This gives directions on what to do or more information about the activity as a whole. Students also can hyperlink things they have created that display the track into this box as they go.
  • My Thoughts/What I Learned: Gives students a place to reflect, pose thoughts, or ask questions.
  • Track Completed: Students place a “Y” if they have completed the track; Students have said this helps them remember where they are at. Students can type an “N” if they have not completed the track yet, or some leave the box blank to show that it is not yet concluded.
  • How Will I Show What I Know: Before students go through the playlists, they think and jot down a cumulative project idea to start after their learning playlist tracks are complete. Students can review and modify their idea for this project as their learn more about their target. For example, you can see in the picture above that this student initially chose to do a 5 paragraph essay. But once they had more skill in the area, they decided they still wanted to produce a 5 paragraph essay, but to take it a step further, they would also create a podcast to show their learning in a way they have not attempted before.
  • Add your own track: Gives students a chance to start finding sources and researching potential activities that transcend learning.

Gradual Release of Learning

When we began the learning playlists, we as teachers created and culminated all of the track ideas for the students. Although I think it is important for the teacher to guide, oversee, and to embed expert curriculum resources, I realized that there is HUGE value in students also being partners in the process.

Therefore, as I continued to use these playlists with students, I would show them how I created videos to make content resources and how I vetted tracks online and offline that were worthy of their learning. Although there were bumps along the way, it lends itself to excellent teachable moments on research, creation, valid and worthwhile sources, and more. Furthermore, students WANTED to lead their own learning which is a craft that is invaluable.

In addition, time management is a skill that improves for students as they determine, through trial and error, how to pace themselves to finish tracks and complete goals without a teacher “timing” them.

Important Notes and Adjustments

  • Start individualized learning playlists in student small groups first.
  • Create Google Calendar schedules & share with your students so they know when the face-to-face meeting times are. Again, during these meetings, you will discuss learning playlists progress, provide guidance, and students will share what they have created. Feel free to alter meeting times and scheduling based on your student needs.
  • Have students begin with one goal/playlist at a time until they become familiar with the concept.
  • The tabs at the bottom of Google Sheets allow you to organize all of the different playlists in ONE sheet! Students can name the tabs based on their learning goal to keep it organized.
  • Playlists can be fitted to a mixture of grade levels, learning standards, curricular areas, and student needs. Playlists can be a supplementary resource to help bridge learning gaps, or it can be a device to extend learning to a new dimension!
  • Hold onto student playlists examples. Many of these playlists can be customized and shared with other students who need an extra boost in similar target areas.
  • Student-Created Adjustments:
    • Once a student completes their first playlist, that particular student will then show another student how to determine a learning target and how-to-begin a learning playlist of their own.
    • Students can display their learning in a variety of ways, even if it is not addressed on the learning playlists. When students think of a new way to show their learning, they can add a new track to a different row in Google Sheets. If the project is not online, they can quickly describe what their project is in the box. If the project is online, students can hyperlink their creations and ideas.
    • Students share their work with friends and family using the sharing settings of their Google Sheets.
    • Students have now started creating playlists on skills like “collaboration” to help themselves grow in non-curricular areas and to team with multiple students on one playlist.

Closing Thoughts

Ms. Montgomery just e-mailed me today to share how much her students continue to be empowered by our learning partnerships and playlists. Students talk about their learning playlists constantly; They are overjoyed to help lead their learning! Most of all, they have a blast creating and thinking outside of the box. On Friday, students even asked if they could skip recess to work on their playlists!

As you try learning playlists, feel free to take what will work with your students and modify or supplement anything that your specific students need.

Additional Resources

  • Make a copy of my learning playlist template on Google Sheets here.
  • Education Week shows how Nathan Hale Middle School uses algorithms to provide personalized learning for each of their students.
  • Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy discusses how she has used learning playlists here.

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Bring Excitement into Testing Season!

MAP testing time is upon us.

This testing window can be a stressful time for students and teachers alike. But, the worries can compile for students who are taking the test for the first time. Going into MAP testing, it is essential that we continue to keep our students front and center.

Adults tend to worry about the logistics and scheduling of testing, while kids want to know questions like, “When can I get a drink of water or when can we take a restroom break during the test?” These questions are incredibly valid. Students basic needs are always important, throughout the year and during MAP testing.

If we take the time to ask students what they want to know, while answering their inquiries in an enjoyable way, we can find a recipe for success where the knowledge can be communicated and understood.

Recently, staff members asked if I could create a MAP Test Q & A where students could ask and answer questions about the MAP in hopes of giving more information about the MAP, especially for our 3rd-grade students who have not yet had practice or experience with the MAP.

I wanted us to embed fun elements, music, a green screen background, and most importantly kids leading the way with production; By empowering our kids in this venture, we show that their opinions and expertise matter. For example, our students came up with the idea of adding bloopers and dance moves to the end of this video to add more personality and excitement; I believe this thought really added some fun and joy to the video. We even asked high schoolers from our district their thoughts about the MAP to gain further insight.

Students who were featured in the video are already creating buzz about how awesome they think it is. Students keep asking, “When is everyone else going to see the video?” We cannot wait for our student population to view the video this month!

During testing periods and beyond, let us bring the same enthusiasm and energy that we bring to our schools throughout the school year!

Click on video below to watch:

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7 Ways to Let Students LEAD!

 

Of all my passions, nothing holds more meaning to me than empowering students to LEAD! When we allow students to lead, we are more likely to empower them not only in their day-to-day learning but in their LIFE. And in my opinion, that is one of the greatest things, if not THE greatest thing, we can do for the kids we serve.

On this same note, although I could write a post that included 100 ways to let students lead, I wanted to synthesize as much information as I could in 7 easy to remember examples, that are also some of my favorite launchpads for learning:

1.  Start student-led class discussions

What I have found from experience is that student-led class discussions are not an “activity,” it is an experience and a meaningful one at that. Too often, we structure our classrooms so we are the sage on the stage and the sole person who can take and answer questions. Rather than building upon students curiosity, we inadvertently and accidently squash them. I must note that there are important and worthwhile moments for teachers to deliver content and field questions in this manner, but it does not have to be the only way.

Helping students lead discussions is a life-long skill that is crucial to build even at the youngest of ages because it proves to be even more important as the years go on. Rather than being terrified that students will argue with one another or will not know what to do during a student-led discussion, think of it as a learning opportunity that will pay dividends in their future. Show them the way and watch them soar. You will run into obstacles at first with this approach, but stay persistent to see student engagement and overall love for learning rise. This article by

This article by Education Week on student-led discussions, with strategies on how to get started, was written two years ago and still rings true today.

 

2.  Choose student tech experts to teach students & teachers new ways to integrate technology

Whether you start a Student Tech before/after school program, or you choose a few students in your class to be “tech experts,” students LOVE teaching other students new ways to integrate technology into the classroom. It never ceases to amaze me how much students know about technology. I often ask my students to teach me what they are doing and how they are using technology outside of school. We then spin the conversation to determine how we can integrate that technology in a meaningful way for their learning at school, too.

 

3.  Ask students their input on how we can improve school and put that input into ACTION!

Students have so many ideas on how to improve the school culture and day-to-day procedures, but we often forget to ask. Whether you ask them about how to better your lessons or how to improve student behavior during unstructured times, students often are untapped resources. Not only that, but they desperately want to help!

I will never forget, when I asked my former sixth-grade students on how we could improve our classroom climate to help all learners feel apart of our team. They immediately came up with the idea of “Leader Jobs.” Although having leader jobs is not new in the classroom, they wanted to put their own spin on it and to CREATE the jobs that would exist in the classroom, rather than me creating them. Having said that, through this experience, I allowed them to lead and saw students who were more ecstatic to come to school than ever before because they had a PURPOSE. Students designed jobs like “Twitter Expert, Instagram Leader, Inspirational Leader,” and more.

Moral of the story: Ask for their input and then make valiant efforts to do something about their feedback. If we only ask and forget to do, we will lose the trust of our kids.

 

4.  Have students create individualized learning playlists that differentiate learning

Several months ago, I heard this idea of creating individualized learning playlists for kids. Before I even researched how other educators have used this practice, I decided to give it a try myself with a few students first; I wanted the creation process with my students to be as organic as possible.

After students have tried these playlists for a couple of months, I have learned an abundant amount from my students about what they like, what does work, and what has not been beneficial for their learning process. I have a post in the works on this topic, but I wanted to share that I have found HUGE student participation and leadership through students being able to learn and create their way at their own pace.

Until this next post on this is created, check out Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog post on this subject.

 

5.  Try a student-led edcamp

This has to be one of my favorite student-led ideas I have tried this year. Read my blog post here on how to get one started!

 

6.  Embed Genius Hour, Project Based Learning and Makerspaces to gain more hands-on approaches to learning

When students are able to learn LIVE through trying, they are leading their learning. Here are a few experts and resources on these topics to get these ideas started in your classroom or school:

  • Genius Hour
    • Check out Don Wettrick: Author of Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level – He is a guru on all things Genius Hour.
    • Genius Hour Twitter Chat:  chat = 1st Thurs of each month at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST
    • One of the most passionate educators I know who uses Genius Hour in her classroom is Jen Schneider– Connect with her on Twitter; She loves to share ideas and resources.
  • Project Based Learning (PBL)
    • Check out Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, authors of Hacking Project Based Learning: I can honestly say that this book was such a worthwhile read and broke down the thinking and action behind project-based learning, in addition to giving meaningful ways to embed it within your class.
  • Makerspaces
    • You cannot say “Makerspaces” without mentioning the queen of Makerspaces, Laura Fleming. Follow her on Twitter, if you do not already, and check out her book and website on Makerspace learning here.

7. Empower students to show their learning with new and innovative approaches.

Do not be the keeper of all the knowledge, be the caretaker of student talent. Ask students to show their learning in ways that you have not even thought of- Allow them to be the designers, too.

Kara’s Tweetable: When we help students live outside the box in their thinking, they will also gain outside of the box success with their learning as a result.

Take risks with your kids- You will learn abundantly more than you would have ever before if you simply played it safe.

 

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How-to Guide for Starting Student Edcamps

Edcamps for teachers have taken the educational world by storm. Teachers, including myself, have been refreshed and renewed with the “edcamp style” of learning which consists of learning and sharing in an unconference format. In regular PD’s and conferences, you have to sit in one spot, even if you are not getting anything out of it. While, in edcamps, the rule of two feet allows you to move between sessions at your heart’s desire. You gain the opportunity to talk with other teachers and dive into learning organically.

After being apart of many edcamps across the nation, attending an edcamp leadership summit, and creating and co-leading a city-wide edcamp, I felt a stirring in my heart also to try it with students. I thought- If we know edcamps are beneficial for adults, isn’t worth a try to allow students to test them out as well? After all, giving students a voice and choice in their learning should be the compass in which we lead.

 

Click this picture to see the original tweet!

My lovely friends and 4th grade team at my school, Angie, Molly, and Lauren, were gracious and beyond willing to team-up with me to give this a try for the first time!

We learned an abundant amount throughout this process and through just diving in; We found out what worked, what did not work, and how we would build upon our foundation next time. I hope you find these tips below beneficial and encouraging to start a student edcamp at YOUR school:

*Disclaimer: At the end of the day, do what is best for YOUR kids. Feel free to use and takeaway whatever you love from this post and to transform it for your kids! What works for our 4th graders, may not work for your kids, and that is okay.

1. Stay focused on the learning

The edcamp model at its whole should be straightforward and focused on the learning. Period. Do not worry about there being prizes or treats. Keep your vision on the learning, student passions, and incorporating students into the process as much as possible.

2. Collaborate with others before jumping in

Want your own copy of this board to edit? Click the picture.
  • Meet and collaborate with your colleagues online and in person at least a couple times before the edcamp.
  • Create a skeleton outline of what you need to do, “before the edcamp,” “during the edcamp” and“after the edcamp.”
  • Determine the time, date, and how many sessions you will have, and how long you want your sessions to be.
  • Create a skeleton of a blank board (either digitally or on an anchor chart) for students to fill in at a later time.
  • THINK: Do you want students to bring devices to research, if needed or do you want them to be device-less to focus on the conversations?
    • We found some topics fit using technology better than others, while other sessions we learned needed materials/objects next time to make the session come to life.
  • Agree on rooms or spaces you have available and supervision for each space.
  • TIP:
    • For our 4th graders, we chose three sessions with 20 minutes per session, and 5-minute transitions to move to the next session and to reflect with peers on their learning. Looking back, next time we will stick with 15 minutes per session.

3. Prepare students before the edcamp

Students created the norms and agreed upon them.

Before the edcamp:

  • Teachers discussed with their students what a true “discussion” looked like, and they practiced in small groups.
  • Each class created norms on a padlet, and we discussed it as a group.
  • We showed this elementary edcamp example video to students as an exemplar.

4. Meet with students the day before the edcamp

Above is a snapshot of part of our Session 1 room ideas! Click picture to see Dotstorming webpage.
  • Meet with all participating teachers and students together.
  • Answer any questions students may have.
  • TIPS:
    • As a group, we determined that each session slot time slot would have its own TOPIC. For example, for session 1, students chose TECHNOLOGY.
    • After the session topic was set, students were then able to vote and agree upon different room ideas. The winners were: coding, ctrl shortcuts and tricks, google slides, and musically (See below for other session and room ideas!)
    • For this process, I would highly recommend using Dotstorming to give students the opportunity to write in their ideas and then to vote. For each separate session, I created a different Dotstorming link to make it easy to organize.
    • If access to devices is not available, have students brainstorm together and then vote by raising hands, tallying, or writing on a ballot.
Above is the finished product and the session topics that students created, voted, and agreed upon.

5. Day of the Edcamp

Create your own dropdown or check-off form like above.
  • If you want a more clear idea of who is going to what session, create a Google form with dropdown choices.
  • Send board sessions and any other needed items to students in Google Classroom to remind them of session times and locations.
  • Meet together in one big space before starting to go over norms and to get EXCITED!
  • Let go and LET KIDS LEAD.
    • This is hard, but important. 
    • Step back and do your best to let students own their conversations and learn without teacher interruptions.

6. After the Edcamp

Give students time to reflect

  • Discuss as a group how the edcamp went, their favorite parts, and how they want to change it next time.
  • Give students a Google Form to gather honest feedback to make the next edcamp even better (Click this link to view my sample form).
  • As a teacher team, go over the feedback.
  • Then, pat yourselves on the back for a job well-done!

Ever since we had the edcamp, kids have been asking us non-stop to do another edcamp again! I highly encourage you to attend edcamps yourself first before starting a student edcamp. But, once you are ready to start a student edcamp- just DIVE IN. You will not regret it, and your students will thank you for being brave enough to take the plunge!

Soon, I will be teaming up with my 3rd grade team to launch another student edcamp where we will invite high schoolers who are inspiring teachers to co-lead sessions. Stay tuned on Twitter!

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