Today was Dr. Davey’s first Maker Day, and between the planning process and the actual day today, my head has been full of thoughts. I make sense of so much of my thinking through blogging, so I’m hoping that as I write down these thoughts tonight, I get a clearer picture of what worked, what didn’t, and where we might want to go next.
After conversing with others and having some quiet contemplation time, here are my thoughts:
Differentiation matters. This was one of my biggest take-aways from today. I’m a huge advocate of differentiation in the classroom, but I don’t think that I totally realized the need for this today, until actually working with the students. All of our activity stations were very open-ended, which I thought would lead to multiple entry points (and in some ways, I think did), but some students were really looking for more direction. When talking to other teachers about the feedback that they received today, some mentioned that students liked and wanted structure, and some said that students preferred less structure. Maybe we need to offer both, regardless of the station. If students have ideas connected to the general topic (e.g., “beautiful junk”), they can explore them, and if students want or need suggestions, there can be options available. A “Maker Day Learning Environment” may be more familiar to some students than others, and maybe scaffolding matters.
We can’t forget about the importance of self-regulation. For some students, a day like today can be overwhelming. There are lots of students in one area, tons of supplies and choices available at each session, and lots of additional noise. Many students almost seem to expect this and are not bothered by it, but what about some of our neediest students? How do we accommodate for them? With so many adults at each session, maybe we need some quieter room options for those that need it. These rooms could also have fewer materials, or even just materials organized in a different way (e.g., maybe in neutral coloured baskets instead of laying on tables or on the floor). Giving students that struggle with sitting still, opportunities to help clean-up supplies or organize them for the next block, might also help. I even wonder about the use of earphones in the computer lab to reduce some of the excess noise. What would you do?
Challenges work well. From both my own students and others, I heard a ton of positive feedback about the Egg Drop Challenge. Students loved being able to think of a contraption idea, build it, test it out, and reflect at the end. The specific challenge helped provide a goal and keep all students engaged throughout the session. Incorporating time for feedback also allowed students to work on metacognition: an essential skill for all students. I wonder now about other challenge possibilities (e.g., a Battle of the Bands or structure challenges with blocks or Lego).
Students will surprise us. Many teachers mentioned to me how much they loved seeing older students supporting younger ones at the different activities. This was something that I really liked as well. One student in particular amazed me. On a previous occasion, I actually spoke to this student about a problem, but today, I can only share the highest of praise. He went out of his way to help reluctant students take risks, to answer questions, to share tools, to showcase learning, and to encourage others to do the same. The more positive feedback he received, the more outgoing and compassionate, he became. This whole experience taught me about the importance of making connections with students, and the impact (positive or negative) that our words and actions can have on others.
There is power in student leadership. My station for today was a little different than some of the other ones. Most teachers teamed up with other staff members to run their stations, but my co-facilitator (and really the lead facilitator) was an amazing Grade 4 student. He’s incredibly passionate and skilled when it comes to coding and Minecraft, so it seemed only right for him to take on this role. He loved that he was on the teacher list of facilitators, and he happily took on the jobs of explaining the coding and Minecraft options, circulating around the room to support and encourage participants, and working with others to code just about everything … including an Arduino. Students make incredible teachers, and I would love to see even more student leadership in future Maker Days.
I have mixed feelings on Minecraft. I know that students love Minecraft, and I know that many of the students that chose to use it today, created some amazing items together. Here’s just one example:
My only problem is that I wonder if students can get just so interested in doing what they know (and are comfortable with), that they can avoid the challenge of something new. As I circulated today, I managed to convince some Minecraft players to try out Scratch, to help program the Arduino, and/or to begin creating a video game in Gamestar Mechanic. Most were reluctant to explore these options, but when they did, many of them loved them. In fact, a few students tracked me down at the nutrition breaks to give them the website addresses and/or details about these other options. Just like with adults, change can be hard, but often amazing learning comes from these new experiences. If Minecraft is an option another year, maybe it needs to be separate from coding, so that students can then focus on the “new” in addition to the “familiar.”
The role of the teacher may be different than usual. Since the students were directing so much of their own learning, at times, it was hard to know what our role should be. Do we just sit back and watch? Do we talk to kids? How could we work with them? With this Maker Day being so close to the end of school, I think that the learning environment may be a bit different than usual. I’m thinking about future Maker Days though, and maybe even ones that happen earlier in the year. I see lots of opportunities here for pedagogical documentation and developing critical thinking and questioning skills through our interactions with students. This is more of a challenge though since not all of the children that we see, are our own. Maybe this is where photographs, videos, and podcasts shared with others through GoogleDrive (which is what we did today) are so helpful, as then we can really support each other in documentation and assessment. What would you do? Why?
Today is a perfect day for all kinds of problem solving. An interesting thing happened as I was getting my students ready for their first session this morning. I mentioned to two students that their session was in Room 307. “But Miss Dunsiger, where’s that?” Oh no! I hadn’t anticipated this problem. This is when another student said, “It’s across the hall from the Grade 5 pod — where we go for Health.” The student that asked me the question then said, “Can I write down the room number?” What a great idea! She took this number upstairs with her, and together, these two students found out exactly where they were going. You know what? I wasn’t worried. Why? Because the students weren’t leaving the school, there were adults and students everywhere, and I knew that they would find their way or ask for help. There’s value in learning how to solve these small types of problems on their own, and this is exactly what these two students did today.
I also thought about problem solving when a teacher and a student mentioned that some students thought that one of the activities was, “boring.” This afternoon, I asked my student, “What would make it better?” Her reply: “Get paper. We could build with that by ‘making’ our own structures.” Another student mentioned that they could draw their plans or even draw and label a diagram of what they created. Great ideas! I don’t want students to be bored, but maybe being so, provides opportunities for problem solving what would make things better … and then doing that! As educators, we could provide challenges or extensions, but we could also give students the power to create them. Maybe the best option is to pass the problem back to them and hear their solution(s). What do you think?
Without a doubt, overall today was a success, but I think that there’s always room for improvement. Reflecting tonight has helped me see some of these areas for growth. Are there other things that we should be considering? What might they be? Through Twitter today, I noticed that many other educators have tried Maker Day types of activities before. I’d love to hear about your experiences and your feedback. We can definitely learn a lot from each other!