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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6 Ways to Use Technology to Boost Student Performance

stumbled across a book titled, “Differentiating Instruction with Technology in K-5 Classrooms” by Grace E. Smith and Stephanie Throne, which was published from ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). After doing more research, I found that Grace and Stephanie are both Educational Technologists and researchers who are dedicated to find best practices for teachers. Through their work, they also discovered a variety of other research in educational tech, which they brought forward in their book as well.

I created the image above based on the information from Grace and Stephanie, which they obtained through CARET (Center of Applied Research in Educational Technology); CARET was founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is a project through ISTE.

6 Ways to Use Technology to Boost Student Performance:

  1. Use technology in a way that “directly supports curriculum objectives.”
  2. Use technology to “foster student collaboration.”
  3. Find and use applications that “adapt to student knowledge and experience, while giving feedback to student and teachers.”
  4. Integrate technology into the “typical instructional day.”
  5. Use technology to give students opportunities to “design and implement projects that tie with curriculum.”
  6. Build a community where students, parents, teachers, and administration “support technology usage.”

I found these 6 points to be compelling and relatable to all I do as an educator. If you take away the word “technology” in any of the above statements, you will find THE optimal learning environment in any classroom, with or without tech.

To illustrate, classrooms should always aim to support objectives, to be collaborative, give immediate feedback, while giving students opportunities to design their learning. Technology can help, but it is not the magic remedy in those equations. Yes, technology can boost student performance in these mentioned areas, but it cannot be done without the positive cultural infrastructure which supports those notions to begin with.

Furthermore, I believe technology is crucial, but I also understand it is not the “end-all-be-all.” Instead, the learning and the environment is what our underlying basis and principle should consist of. Technology can be a transformative asset when used with purpose- but if it is not taking the learning and connecting to the next level, we need to rethink how we are using the tools.

Reflections: During your technology integration journey- Remember that the most thrilling part of the learning expedition is not the technology. More importantly, enthusiasm is won by focusing on the DISCOVERY of learning new things and expanding your skill-set and passions, while inspiring the people you serve to do the same.

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Self-Care in the Digital Age

We are surrounded, and drowning, under a sea of devices to make our lives more efficient.

But, what people do not talk about is the lasting effects that excessive usage of technology can have on a person without proactive and swift decisions to have a healthy mind and body, from the inside-out. ISTE’s standards also recognize the how overuse of tech can impact one’s mental, physical, and emotional health and one’s digital identity.

Recently, I have been reading “Sleep Smarter” by Shawn Stevenson, and it is a game-changer. Great sleep is more than just aiming for 8 hours; What you do during the day will directly impact your sleep or lack thereof.

In the digital world that we live in, we must actively be leading kids and ourselves to practice self-care.

I have been doing research on how extensive use of digital screens causes eye fatigue and strain while interfering with your sleep and circadian rhythms. Only decreasing the brightness of your screen will not solve the problem. Blue and white light work together to cause interferences with your brain that can directly affect your well-being during the day, and your sleep at night.

Here are some tips to live by:

Blue Light

Download a “Blue Light” app or extension on your phone, computer, and tablet to reduce eye fatigue and strain; Search “blue light” in either your Google Play or Apple store to find results. But not all apps are equal- try them out and see what gives you the most positive results. I love “BlueLight Filter” from Android and “Screen Shader” for your Chromebook or computer.

After downloading, you can click the icon on your toolbar and either mask a day or nightshade depending on the time of day. The screen will turn a different color with a mask of pink/salmon (or other colors of your choice). If you take a screenshot, your screenshot will also have the colored mask for some apps. You can also temporarily turn off the shade function for zero interference- I do this easily on “Screen Shader” with just one click.

Body Mechanics

  • Position keyboard directly in front of your body.
  • Adjust keyboard and height, so shoulders are relaxed, and elbows are slightly open.
  • Keep neck and jaw in a neutral and relaxed position.
  • Adjust the screen rather than adjusting your neck as you work.
  • Look away from your screen periodically and get up and move!
  • Push your body to the back part of your chair and adjust the height of the chair (if applicable).
  • Aim to be one arm’s length away from your screen.
  • Stretch and flex hands, fingers, and wrists throughout the day.

Go Outside

Take a walk and spend more time outside. A quick 15-minute walk can do wonders for your health paired with the joy that sunlight can bring to your brain. Getting proper daylight during the day also helps you sleep better at night. If the weather hinders you from being outside, keep the blinds open if you have windows.

Sleep

We continue to work harder and sleep less, which equates to feeling run down and making more mistakes throughout the work and school day. Do your best to put devices away 90 minutes before bed time. If you cannot do this, use one of the “Blue Light” extensions during your time on the device to limit interference with circadian sleep rhythms.

 

During the past few weeks of staying true to these tips, I have noticed gains in my posture, sleep patterns, and overall well-being during the day. I encourage you to practice self-care and to give a few of these tips a try as well. Once you try it and see results- teach your students, colleagues, and beyond! Although we love technology, we have to train ourselves to love our bodies and health even more!

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Build a Mobile Green Screen for $10

Do you want to build a green screen for next to nothing in cost? I hope I can shed light on a few ideas to make your wish a reality.

The process of making a green screen seems overwhelming at first, but the creation can be as simplistic or elaborate as you want. Likewise, you can pick your price on a green screen. For example, if you only want to spend ten dollars and make your own, you can do that. There are also a variety of other cheap remedies, like constructing a green screen with pipe cleaners. While on the other hand, you can spend $100+ and buy a ready-made kit for you on a website like Amazon.

At my school, we are in the search for the perfect spot for our Makerspace. So in the meantime; I wanted to create a “mobile” green screen that I could easily take with me from class-to-class since I am regularly collaborating with our K-5 teachers. Another important piece was that I wanted this green screen to be low-cost. Since we plan on building a fabric green screen in our future Makerspace room, I wanted to create something that would fit the bill of a mobile and easy-to-use unit that would be accessible to teachers and myself in the present day.

Therefore, this green screen was born.

But, before we get started, many people ask me “why” we use the color green in video making. To answer this, the green screen, and blue screens are often go-to colors because they are the hues that differ the most from the majority of human skin tones. Other uniformed colors can also be used, but green and blue are preferred.

In my opinion, neon/lime green is the optimal choice because it is unique and will contrast most clothing as well. Since blue is more likely to be worn, that particular combination not ideal. To paint the picture, if a student is wearing a blue shirt with a blue screen; Their upper torso will disappear.

Now, here is picture overview on how I built my easy green screen:

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Green Screen Blog Post

To give a little background, our 3rd-grade teachers are in the initial stages of a climate and weather unit. I thought this green screen would be perfect for “Kid Meteorologists.” Today, I taught several students in 3rd-grade classes how to create green screen videos. In the very near future, they will venture out to teach their students and teachers, too.

Here is one of the awesome videos we put together; We had the best time creating!

“Kid Meteorologist”- Weather of the Day
Other thoughts to point out:

  • To be honest, it does not matter what side you add the tape to when you are taping the posters together; When you create the video on the app, the green tape will disappear, just like the poster. But, I decided to add the green tape to the sticker side of the poster (for aesthetic reasons), while making the opposing side tape and label free.
  • Since I work with K-5 kiddos, I chose four pieces of poster board. But, I did buy 10, just in case I decided to add more to my base. Feel free to do what sounds best to you and your students.
  • I have been using a few pieces of the green duck tape to attach the green screen to the wall. I roll the pieces and put it behind the green screen. I have liked this idea since I want to be able to make any wall into a green screen at the drop of a hat.
  • I must say that my favorite green screen app is “Do Ink.”
  • I love using iPads for green screen video creation, so that is the device we used for this particular activity.

As I mentioned above, we will be building another green screen in the future for our Makerspace Studio. We are considering other ideas for green screens in the classrooms as well. Stay tuned!

Kara Welty

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The Roadmap for Tech Success in School & Life

Roadmap for Tech Success

I moved to a brand new city within the last two months, and let me tell you, Google Maps has become an even stronger best friend: Google Maps + Kara = Friends Forever.

I am using GPS to get me everywhere. To give myself credit, this is understandable since I have never lived in this city before. But, after days of using the GPS to travel to the same locations, I realized that I needed to let my comfort blanket go. It was time to start driving without the visual and speech support-“You can do this, Kara,” I told myself.

I am not going to lie, it was a little terrifying to put the good ole’ Google Maps aside and to trust that I could make it halfway across the city with a million intersections competing against me, but I knew I could handle it.

All-in-all, I am happy to report that I did make it safely to my destination that day all-in-one piece, and without a scratch on my car (or myself). I am going to call this a total win-win.

Before I go any further, thank goodness for technology; Technology makes my life easier each and every day. And for that, I am eternally grateful. But, I see a fine line we face each day when we trust our computers to navigate our every move, rather than stopping for a second to think about our experiences and intuition.

As funny as it may seem, these same rules apply to technology in education: Technology is incredible, but our minds are an even greater gift bestowed upon us.

Do not let the technology determine where you go. YOU determine where you’re going, then use your learning first to get you there. Technology is not our compass. WE are the compass.

The Roadmap for Tech Success in School & in Life:

  1. Know where you want to go first.
  2. Give yourself some space to think- Is technology really what we need to transform this?
  3. Plan your course and prepare for roadblocks you may stumble across.
  4. Adjust your journey & take a detour, if needed.
  5. Take a breath & enjoy the ride!
  6. Arrive (You will sooner or later).

I think Lady Antebellum said it best,“Let your heart sweet heart be your compass when your lost and you should follow it wherever it may go….”

Kara Welty

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