Make/Hack/Play Together 2

When Kevin Hodgson shared his song in the post, Making a Song, for the first ‘make’ of the Make/Hack/Play Together MOOC, I was immediately impressed by its mournful mood. I thought it would be appropriate for this week’s ‘digital make’ to hack his song by arranging it for string quartet using MuseScore. Here’s a link to my work-in-progress, Hacking a Song.

I’ve only spent a short time on it, but have found some bits I like and some that probably wouldn’t make the final cut. Arranging is different that writing a song. It’s rather scientific and requires taking into account many variables such as register, the mechanics of the instruments involved, acoustics, etc.

I even started to ‘play’ at the end, but it’s getting late and I can’t tell whether those ideas are worth staying up for…

The trickiest part, however, is capturing the mood. Since the mood of Kevin’s song is what struck me, I tried to interpret that feeling for a different ensemble. It never works to copy it. It’s more like a translation than anything else. The sounds, like words, may have the same meanings, but they don’t say the same things.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading and listening to my little, albeit, incomplete piece.

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Make/Hack/Play Together 1

During the past week, I participated in the Make/Hack/Play Together MOOC. Experience has taught me that every learner builds their understanding themselves, and very often literally. Thinking is not something that occurs ‘in our heads’. Thinking is everywhere, visibly and tangibly. This MOOC is a fantastic opportunity to explore Constructionist pedagogy as a learner and teacher.
The first assignment was to build something physical. I didn’t manage to find time to build anything myself, but I did with my son. He is two years old, and has had a set of wooden blocks for about a year. When he first started playing with them, they always represented objects. Sometimes they were spoons, sometimes trains, sometimes only he knows what.
In recent weeks, however, he has started building. Noticing his curiosity, I started building alongside him and describing my creative process. He enjoys watching and listening, and gets very excited as my creations grow. That is, before he obliterates them. He is definitely still in the ‘destroyer’ stage as a maker, but as his hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills improve, I’m sure he will finally start to make his imaginings concrete and visible.
My ‘Garage Cathedral’ moments before demolition.

Two students in my class have been making what they’re calling a ‘model mansion’ out of cardboard and other stuff as one of their independent inquiries. Independent Inquiry is a project I have been developing to try to connect learning in school and out of school, and to foster a maker mindset in my classroom.

The tube on the side represents an elevator.
I believe it is the first time either of them has ever done this. Discussions during their collaborations have been fascinating and hilarious as they suggest, debate, iterate, revise, and build. I have documented several instances of them developing critical collaboration, communication, and creative skills and can say without hesitation that this activity is having a profoundly positive impact on their learning.
Finally, I would like to share a photo I took during a field trip to the Bandai Museum. It is Rick Hunter’s mecha from Robotech, and possibly my all-time favorite toy.

Interestingly, Robotech was the US release of two Japanese series that had been hacked and edited together. The show I watched was itself a remix, so to speak, and one of my favorite features of the toys was their transformability. They had three modes, one that looks like a jet, one that looks like a person, and one, as you can see in the photo, that looks like a mix of the two. That element of choice, being able to remix as one played, made the toys very engaging, just like ‘making’.

I hope I will have more time to participate more directly during the next week, but for now I’ve enjoyed being in a maker mindset despite not making much of anything myself.

No Sleep November

I hereby dub this month “No Sleep November” because there are so many fantastic learning opportunities for teachers and I don’t want to miss any.

First, I’m participating in the COETAIL (Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy) program and working toward a Master’s Degree. Course 1 was an enjoyable survey and blogscussion of Connectivist Learning Theory and Course 2 promises to address issues related to technology.
Next, the Deeper Learning MOOC preview. This is exactly the kind of exploration I’ve been looking forward to and will mercifully commence in January. The preview is this week, and will focus on Academic Mindsets.
To further inform and develop my Independent Inquiry project, a philosophy and framework for connecting learning in and out of school, I enrolled in the Make/Hack/Play Together MOOC. I’m planning to participate along with my students, so hopefully a good portion of the assignments will be completed during class time.
Finally, I’m hoping to catch up on everything I missed in the K-12 Online Conference. I made a note of this awesome event months ago and checked in on the last day only to be blown away by all that I had missed! 
Did I mention I’m writing a novel? I’ve put down about fifty-thousand words, although haven’t worked on it for a few months. Thanks to the folks at Educator Innovator for reminding me that November is National Novel Writing Month! How convenient. I don’t expect to finish mine this month, but I shouldn’t let it slide for too long.
How can I possibly expect to do all of this? It can’t be ignored that I have a rambunctious two-year-old son at home and a school-wide musical to organize, rehearse, and produce!
The solution, of course, is to forgo sleep. Rather than burning midnight oil, I’m considering a regimen of coffee-fueled early morning work sessions. Even just five hours per week should be enough to stay on top of these projects and lead to wrapping up 2013 with a thunderous bang.

Here’s musical score for ‘No Sleep November’, my own composition for jazz orchestra, Insomnia.

Back-to-School Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower Challenge!

I was first introduced to this activity during the MIT Media Lab Learning Creative Learning course. There are a few variations, such as limiting the amount of resources or including tape, but for my students’ first day of sixth grade, I let chaos reign.
I gave each group a package of dry spaghetti, three small bags of marshmallows, and the simplest rules I could think of:
1 Build the tallest structure you can.
2 You may only use the materials I gave you.
3 We’ll measure after 60 minutes.

The primary objective was to get comfortable with each other in our learning space. They made a huge mess and laughed a lot, so that goal was achieved. However, this exercise has implications in many learning domains:
Collaboration
The more a group shares and synthesizes ideas, the taller and stronger their tower becomes.
Engineering
This is an authentic inquiry into materials and structures. All of the students’ reflections mention ‘balance’ and being frustrated when their building materials broke or didn’t perform as expected. Every group deduced that triangles are the most stable shape and one group even built a base of four square pyramids.
Research
Every group spent at least some time searching for solutions online.
Planning
Another common theme in reflections referred to the need to think ahead and plan more. Comparing structures at the finale was a terrific visible thinking exercise.
In retrospect, I would limit building materials more in the future, but the activity was a blast and set the stage perfectly for the sorts of independent inquiry and exploration our school year will emphasize.

Five innovations for the first day of school

Although I was at school last week, tomorrow is the first day for students and I’m very excited. I’ve changed a few of my approaches to teaching and can’t to get started. I think other teachers may be interested, so I’ll outline a few of this year’s innovations:

1 Organizing resources with Evernote. As I’ve been reporting in my ‘Inquiry with Evernote‘ posts at Inquire Within, I have a few hundred photos, articles, videos, websites, etc tagged according to theme, concepts, and disciplines. The result is a cache of resources that can be called upon in various ways and is meant to provide provocation and support for inquiry-based learning and teaching.

2 Using the class blog as a learning hub. This year, our blog will be central to learning, connecting, and collaborating. With that in mind, I’ve already prepared posts in draft form ready to be published when the time comes. For example, in our first unit, we’ll view two videos and read a magazine article. We’ll discuss them in class, but respond on the class blog. I’ve embedded the videos and link to the article in posts so that they can be reviewed before students respond by writing comments.

We’ll be inviting other classes inquiring into similar themes or topics to respond, as well, by searching their blogs for related posts on which to comment and using twitter to raise awareness.


3 Designing connected, creative learning. Tomorrow, there’s a significant chunk of time set aside for a Marshmallow Challenge. This year, I want to introduce and nurture the ‘maker’ spirit much more than before. MIT Media Lab’s Learning Creative Learning course and this summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC inspired me to think less like a traditional teacher and more like a designer of learning experiences, or metateacher. Providing materials and time for tinkering and the tools for collaboration and reflection is a great way to get started, I think.

4 Emphasizing Independent Inquiry. My grade 6 class will undertake our school’s first PYP Exhibition. Independent inquiry is essential for the process, so I plan to help my students develop their skills during the entire year both in and out of school.

5 Using Google Apps to engage parents. During parent orientation last week, I introduced families to an experiment. I plan to document students’ development along the PYP Language Scope & Sequence by using using this google doc. I’ve made a set of four for each student (listening & speaking, viewing & presenting, reading, writing). Learning outcomes which they have already achieved are changed to white background color. As they practice the phase 4 and 5 outcomes, I’ll be adding dates and linking to artifacts, whether they are online, scanned images, etc. Each time an outcome is practiced, it’s color becomes lighter. When it’s white, it’s considered mastered.

The beautiful part is that I’ve shared each student’s documents with their parents so that they can see, comment on, and participate in tracking their child’s learning. They seem very excited about it and I can’t wait to see how it works.

Thanks for reading! What are your innovations this year?

I want workbenches in my classroom.

Make Cycle 5 (reflection)

The first assignment I remember from my ‘teacher training’ was to make a map of my ideal elementary classroom. It was based on what I called ‘zones’. There was a quiet reading zone equipped with beanbags, a gallery zone with easels dedicated to exhibiting artwork, and a vegetable garden under the windows. My proudest feature, however, was the workbenches. When I presented my map to the class, I spoke about how it was fine for students to have desks, but I wanted another area without chairs, just large, tall tables around which they could collaborate and build.

I wanted workbenches.

I had a few years experience teaching musical keyboard classes. I had wild ideas of ‘open school’ and giant learning spaces in which the boundaries between teacher and student, classroom and community, were smeared beyond recognition.

All I knew was that children learn best when they are self-directed and encouraged to collaborate.

Then, I became a teacher.

My first classroom in a start up charter school was far too small to squeeze anything but the students’ desks into. My own desk was just a waist-high bookshelf with a computer keyboard and monitor on top. Slowly, sadly, my dream to have a creative workspace for students became hazy and distant. Sure, they sculpted and painted at their desks. We arranged them in rectangles for collaboration. A few even took me up on the offer not to use a chair. My dream, to see my class on their feet learning with sweaty elbows and unrestricted creative potential, slowly drifted away.

Until the Making Learning Connected MOOC.

Now I’m considering a map for my classroom for the next school year. Considering? No. Conspiring is a better word. One idea, inspired by Sam Sherratt of Time Space Education, was to have an individual studio for each student arrayed around the classroom and all of their desks clustered in the center for meetings and collaboration. They would be free to arrange, decorate, and hack their studios as they like. They will undertake our school’s first PYP Exhibition and need an open creative space. I want to expand the Independent Inquiry project by providing more time to collaborate in class. Sam’s concept of classroom as studio is exactly what we need.

Will I be able to get workbenches? Doubtful this year, but if I leave the possibility open for them to bring their own preferred style of desk, it may be even better. Has anyone heard of BYOD? Bring Your Own Desk? Build Your Own Desk?

I’m very grateful to the  Making Learning Connected Community for helping to reawaken my creativity toward learning and teaching. I feel like a smartass student teacher again with huge ideas, inspired.
Someday, I will have workbenches.

Is laziness good for learning?

Make Cycle 3 Reflection (Map)

Witnessing the creativity and originality of the maps my peers in the Making Learning Connected MOOC had submitted, I was overwhelmed by my own laziness. I didn’t feel like being ‘hands on’. Didn’t want to tinker. Wouldn’t go outside. I wasn’t even inspired by the thoughtful prompts or useful tools which had been shared. I was just too lazy.

Was it because this is the first week of my summer break? Was it because the weather in Tokyo is becoming hotter and muggier? Am I naturally lazy?

From an evolutionary perspective, isn’t being lazy very important? Wasted energy and effort don’t support survival, and nobody likes a busybody out on the Serengeti. Lions are lazy, sleeping most of their lives, and bears hibernate for a few months every year! Bears and lions are awesome, so why is laziness such a taboo?!

As I wallowed in my laziness, it dawned on me that I could make a map to help solve my problem, both to understand my laziness and finish my assignment, and viola!, my Laziness Map.

Click to view in google drive.

Working on it was metacognitively enlightening. I managed to achieve precisely one of the subconscious goals of Independent Inquiry, which is to have fun learning without realizing the seriousness of the learning occurring. This is a major breakthrough, as I often struggle to motivate or encourage students who “can’t think of anything” to inquire into or try. Knowing that whatever they do will be exercising their learning, I might suggest that they do nothing. Just go for a stroll or make a list of words beginning with ‘D’.

I should encourage students to seek creative strategies that work for them and present models in the form of famous artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, etc, to help guide and inspire them.
‘I choose a lazy person to do a hard job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.’ Bill Gates

In terms of creativity and innovation, laziness is not necessarily negative. My laziness led to a fun and creative solution to the problem of making a map. Perhaps makers should embrace laziness when it overtakes them in order to stimulate untapped creativity. When in doubt, take a nap.

While I’m not planning to encourage laziness in my class, I do think that authentic autonomy in learning must provide the opportunity for inactivity as well as activity. I look forward to exploring these notions further.
Naps will remain encouraged, of course.