I mentioned in my last post that as a school board in Peel we have just released our vision for Modern Learning. It was a long journey from our first conversations to the final twelve page glossy document. I wonder sometimes if the glossiness deters from the message. It’s easy to see the words on the page as static and not as a living. Maybe I’m too idealistic but as I stood in the Steam Lab at West Acres yesterday Wednesday afternoon, I could see it come to life. Full disclaimer here we broke all the rules including those on the often retweeted Edtech posters. We didn’t have a particular curriculum link or a clear overarching goal other than to explore. This was our inquiry to see where learners would lead us. Sometimes the best learning comes when you break the rules.
I walked in to Westacres Public School yesterday afternoon with my bag of #makeymakeys, fruit and foil. In conversations with Trish, the teacher librarian, we thought the Makey Makeys could be a great way to build on all the awesome designing and creating learners had done to date with digital and physical materials. A chance to see that the two, the digital and physical world, could collide.
We started with a simple prompt having one of the Makey Makeys set up with fruit connected to the Makey Makey Drum Machine on Scratch. As learners came in I’d invite one or two to help me test it out. With our first group it took about a minute before one of the friends started explaining that we were creating a circuit (using those exact words) adding on how we were transferring energy through our touch. All it took was this small spark and carefully laid out materials to have students get started. In the past I would have set up the Makey Makeys, I would have given detailed steps to get started but yesterday I realized it wasn’t needed. From that one spark we could say try it and they would figure it out. Those that needed support would seek it out.
A spark of curiosity, an invitation to learners is all that was needed.
Noticing and Naming
After setting up their Makey Makey and exploring some different conductive materials (the fruit is always a hit) we wanted to add another layer with code. We worked through how the code could help us create our own response looking at the sounds and notes blocks in Scratch (which was new to some friends). Again, honestly a minute or two after the mini-lesson, I could overhear one group say “We should use B A G so we can do one of our songs.” I moved a little closer and prodded with some questions. Why B A G? They replied that they are the three notes for their recorder songs. After some success with Hot Cross Buns and the like they were ready to add another note. Trish was listening in to a group at the back of the room. They were frustrated and all wanted to play their instrument at the same time and the one alligator clip grounding their circuit wasn’t cutting it so they discovered that they could use the Makey Makey tin to create a larger earth to ground them. I fear that if we went in with a detailed checklist we may have missed the opportunity to notice and name the learning.
Listening closely & asking questions allowed us to revel in our competent, capable learners.
One of the best parts of my job as I support educators, is that I can come in to a room as a blank slate. I don’t know what is in the OSR or the details of last year’s report, or those friends that we have just not been syncing with that day. I always find it is fascinating to debrief the learning and find often student’s who do not experience success in other areas of schooling find their voice in making. We noticed just that as we listened closely to their designing, creating and making. A colleague reminded me of the 100 Languages of Children that the Reggio Emilia approach .
Making, creating and designing let us see the 100 languages of our learners.
This is it!
As we started reflecting on the day I could see the elements from our Empowering Modern Learners vision document come to life. As learners collaborated and communicated, questioned and wondered we could see the work through out the year in their STEAM lab had created a culture of curiosity. Our role as educators was to observe and notice the learning. Our observations let us see learners in new lights, finding their strengths and jumping off points. Access to the technology made the learning possible, but the learners powered the experience it as they collaborated, problem solved, persisted through the challenges and their disagreements in their flexible environment.
I left my afternoon with the Westacres crew with a feeling of this is it. This is what the glossy words look and sound like. It is learners taking the lead. It is seeing a room of capable, competent, rich in potential learners. It is curiosity and wonder. I’ve seen it as we explore green tablecloths on floors with Kindergarten friends or coding Dash to meet Dot in grade 1. I see it as we design our own worlds for retelling and in creating dual language books with newcomers.
It isn’t about the tools but the tools often push us to a place of discomfort. They push us to a place of exploration, wonder and curiosity. They force us to take a different stance then we are used to. And in the process they bring out the competent, capable, curious empowered learners we sometimes miss.