The Art and Science of Making: What Students Do to Create and Invent

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A few weeks ago, some of our young people reminded us that making is a mindset that can occur any time, any place.  On a snow day, a group of kids were co-opted by a local teenage video “maker” into creating and publishing a fabulous YouTube video, “Call Me Maybe, Josh Davis.” This video represented the inherent passion and joy that surfaces when young makers get together and intersect talents, skills, and interests in a collaborative venture. They learned from and with each other. They sparked ideas and inventive thinking. They showed our community what happens when kids exercise their spontaneous and creative genius, use technology tools in powerful ways to communicate, and leave their mark upon an authentic audience.

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We also see inventive potential when our elementary children construct their own cardboard arcade games for their school carnival, test bending moment using chairs, tables, and Unifix cube bridges, and create engineering solutions to design challenges pitched to them. It’s in the creative genius of our teenagers who’ve built their own 3-D printer, designed quad-copters and musical instruments, produced their own studio music and made document camera projectors for less than $100 dollars.

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Navigating Lego Simple Machines at Meriwether Lewis Elementary

Making things is a natural learning state for humans. It offers a different way to see the world through the practical lenses of finding solutions to problems, conundrums, and perplexities embedded in daily life. Making opportunities stretch analytical, creative, and integrative thinking. Making creates multi-dimensional, hands-to-mind and mind-to-hands processing that engages together the mathematical and language centers of the brain.

Making offers integrated learning opportunities–the best of any century learning. We see it in the collaborative efforts of Destination Imagination teams to design-build solutions to challenges. We see it in the gardens created and nurtured as part of a school’s own “grow local” effort for their school cafeteria.

Measuring, Mixing, and Making Muffins at Red Hill Elementary

Measuring, Mixing, and Making Muffins at Red Hill Elementary

Making is not just about math, science, engineering and technology.

A focus on STEM content knowledge is great if we want our children to become the next generation of skilled technicians and workers.  But, for us, the hacker/maker movement is about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs, creators and inventors.  That’s what adding the “A” to STEM gets at–a necessary injection of the creative Arts into STEM as STEAM.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

We believe whether it’s the advanced manufacturing spillover influence from the University of Virginia’s engineering school into our elementary school digital fabrication labs or our year-round Irish-influenced Coder Dojos where kids make games in MIT’s free Scratch programming language  create websites with HTML, or work with Java, our children are moving back through these experiences to the natural learning that’s fueled America’s inventors, patent-makers, backyard mechanics, studio artists, NASA engineers, and skyscraper designers and builders.

A number of our Albemarle schools have prototyped maker spaces in libraries, redesigned computer labs, hallway niches, and converted classrooms. We see the results in the energized work of young people to create, design, invent, engineer, and make.

WAHS physics students build a wind tunnel in a flipped classroom environment

WAHS physics students build a wind tunnel in a flipped classroom environment

 Next year we will open Design 2015 teacher-developed maker space projects in a number of schools. We want our children to learn to use manual tools, but also so much more, In today’s environment, digital tools (in most cases) are very necessary design tools in early stages of “making” — drawing or programming to make something else do something.  Consider the tools, materials, skills, and knowledge necessary to make something new that will meet a human need or want. How many people do we know with the skills to do “maker” work today – despite the idea that America’s economic future rests in the hands of designers, inventors, builders, engineers, and makers from artists to auto mechanics?

We see the connectivity of our partnership with the national MakerCorps summer project as an opportunity to work with children through a different kind of interactive professional development for teachers who will partner in this hands-on maker experience, using a variety of traditional and contemporary technologies. The MakerCorps offers us an opportunity to draw young people, high school graduates and local college students into a real-deal maker program where they will serve as mentors for both our children and the teachers with whom they will interact. This work will engage young learners in the same way that these MESA Academy students engaged in designing, making, and sharing their interdisciplinary work – integrating the arts, sciences, technologies, and mathematics with engineering principles.

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We are at a turning point in human history, a rising tide of a culture of participation in global networks that open doors of which we humans have never dreamed. Remember, “making”, at its core, is about “teaching” kids to view the world (not just school) in a completely different way — it’s about empowerment and ownership of destiny— wondering is great but realizing that one has the power to “make something happen” is a powerful, powerful thing.

summer Coder Dojo

summer Coder Dojo

 Many of us talk about what’s wrong with the world (our work, our culture, etc.)—we chat about the need to change and wonder about something better—but very, very few of us actually do much of anything about it.  We tinker around the edges at best.  We are mostly admirers of problems and not solvers of them.  Public schools, very much by design, often perpetuate that.

So, moving kids from compliant listeners to curious learners is an awesome goal, but the ultimate goal must be to move learners from dreamers ….  to doers …. then, later in life, to change makers. Our nation, state, and local community depend upon it.

But, to make our own dream a reality — we’ll need to move ourselves and other adults along that continuum as well. That’s no small challenge. We educators, have much to consider and make happen.

Chad Ratliff and Pam Moran co-authored this post previously published at makered.org

 

Learning Beyond the Walls: Skype Comes to Band Class

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At Henley Middle School, band director Kate Meier has worked with band director Andrew LaPrade at Burley Middle School to use Skype to “live” broadcast young musicians’ practice of concert pieces –  with the purpose of sharing music feedback with each other. It’s professional learning for the band directors but also a learning opportunity for their middle school students.

In his most recent blog post, Henley principal Dr. Pat McLaughlin describes an administrative observation of how Ms. Meier has taken her young musicians’ practice sessions beyond the band room walls – virtually.

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Lessons We Loved from Henley Middle School 

 Each week in our internal staff newsletter, Jason Crutchfield, our assistant principal, and I try to highlight a staff member who we observed teaching a great lesson.  I think it’s important to begin sharing those lessons out with the community via this blog so that all of you can help us celebrate our incredible staff.  We’ll be starting that this week and hopefully continuing it quite often in the coming year.

Today’s lesson write up comes from Mr. Crutchfield:

“Smile, We See You”

No more poor behavior in band class; students are being watched. That is because Kate Meier and Richard Baritaud have been collaborating in their district wide PLCs’ (Professional Learning Communities) to “broadcast” their performances for each other.

This work began in CAI (the division’s Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction professional development institute) with the development of performance tasks for music groups. Music directors in Albemarle thought it would be a good idea to have their groups perform pieces for each other using sites like SKYPE to observe performances. Students would have a selection to play that they haven’t seen before while another band/orchestra watches remotely from their own school.  The plan is to have students observe and document their assessments of each other using the precise terminology the judges will use during district band assessments.

I was able to observe the trial run in Mrs. Meier’s classroom this past month. She collaborated with the band director at Burley Middle and their symphonic band. Our students were highly energized by the prospects of this lesson. They waited patiently as Mrs. Meier worked out technicalities of the hardware. As they experienced minor tech delays, Mrs. Meier’s patience was the hero of this lesson. Once SKYPE was up and running, Henley’s Symphonic band played their piece. Once complete, Burley’s band members were able to come to the microphone and give feedback using the precise language that their district judges will be using next semester. The process was reciprocated and our students were able to provide accurate and constructive feedback as well.

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… And now more on Virginia’s and Albemarle’s focus on virtual learning development

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Virtual learning often is thought of as a student sitting in front of a computer working through screen pages to read and respond to course content. This may have been true ten years ago, but Albemarle’s contemporary educators are using a variety of virtual learning tools to extend learning connectivity with other educators as well as other young learners inside and outside the school division.

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Skyping with an educational purpose in mind offers such opportunities for learning and our pioneering teachers are trying out these tools.

Last year, students in a Modern Issues in the World course at AHS Skyped with an Egyptologist to engage in dialogue about the push there to democratize Egypt. They compared and contrasted his reactions to how early American revolutionaries might have felt as the American Revolution unfolded. Kindergarteners at Greer, Broadus Wood, and Meriwether Lewis Elementary Schools routinely Skype with each other to share their work in class – their artwork, building structures, math, favorite picture books, and writing.

A New Virtual Requirement: Va High School Students

The Commonwealth of Virginia will require all students entering ninth grade in 2013-14 to graduate with at least one virtual, or online, course on their transcript. Most of our young people already live in a world of virtual social communication and entertainment. Shifting students’ to see and value purposeful learning uses of technologies means educators have to learn to use such technologies for learning as well. This requirement means our Division must training for teachers, tools and access for students, and information to help parents support their children to be successful in such courses, a budget initiative for 2013-14.

Using virtual technologies and tools for learning may challenge some of today’s educators, particularly given the rapid evolution of such technologies. We here in Albemarle County Public Schools are fortunate to have teachers such as Ms. Meiers and Mr. LaPrade helping to lead the way.