Category Archives: Technology

What is this Maker Movement?

I am a maker.  At least I think I am.  I sew. I blog. I cook. I bind books. I built a deck with my dad. Is that what people mean when they talk about ‘making?’

When I hear people talking about Making in schools, it sounds like hands-on learning.  It’s constructivism, right?  That’s essentially what Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager write in their book, Invent to Learn.

Learning by making, tinkering, and engineering is consistent with Piagetian theories.
– Martinez and Stager

Piaget said, basically, the best kind of learning is experiential, active, kinesthetic.

Ok, I can do that.

But, it’s more than just experiential learning.  Martinez and Stager introduced me to another educator, Seymour Papert, who is a tech guy.  He is all about using the computer as a tool to make stuff.  Papert was into coding, and his ideas will later lead to Scratch.

The idea is this: make stuff, and add the computer to your toolkit.

This is the beginning of an investigation. How does the Maker Movement fit with educational goals and best practices? How is making learning? How are schools increasing experiential learning? What tools and expertise do schools need to facilitate making? How are classroom teachers participating?


Let the Planning Begin – Tools for Success

Procrastination finally comes to an end.
Today I begin the work of plotting out the first few days (and weeks) of school.

While the students are out shopping for school supplies (which induce panic attacks in me), I pull out my copy of The First Six Weeks of School.  The summer is coming to an end.  How many teachers would agree with this quote recently posted by Erin Klein on Pinterest?

But, no worries – I have some handy tools to help me through the process.

1) Wunderlist – This is my current favorite to-do list.  It looks nice.  It syncs to all of my devices.  I can set reminders and due dates, and I appreciate that I can share lists with folks who can co-manage lists.

2) Springpad – This site is like a Pinterest or an Evernote, just slightly different.  I’ve been collecting school materials here for quite some time. Today I will turn to my notebook, The First Days of School.

3) Pinterest – so much fun information presented in a pretty, pretty way. I have several boards that are collections of school stuff, like this one: Classrooms

4) Coffitivity – Ambient background noise that makes it feel like you are in a cafe.  Supposedly it helps boost creativity and maintain productivity.  Don’t know if that’s true, but when I listen to it I feel … more at ease.  And this way I spend less money, and I don’t have to pack up my computer when I go to the bathroom.

5) Bento – I love this beautiful product made by Filemaker.  It’s a gorgeous way of creating your own databases using self-created forms.  This is my favorite way to plan.  I can even get the plans on my iPad and use them while teaching.

3rd Grade Inventors Solve Problems Creatively

It all began with a group brainstorming session.  We sat around tables with sticky notes.  Inspired by, the Klutz Book of Brilliant Ridiculous Inventions, we agreed to a few basic rules:

  • all ideas are welcome
  • more is better (go for quantity not quality)
  • sugar is helpful to maintain good spirits and energy
  • sticky notes + permanent markers = easy to write & read

Our first two sessions we spent thinking of all the things that nag and bug us in our daily lives.

  • brushing our teeth when we’re tired
  • not able to stay up late and read/write
  • when our moms yell at us
  • annoying sibling…

Once we had spent a significant amount of mental power on problems, we switched our brains to think up solutions. 
Once the Magical Minds had chosen one solution/invention to pursue, their task was to create a diagram.  The goal was to create an image that would explain the different parts and pieces of their invention.

Nathan researching the size of different electronic devices for his "Huge Wallet"


The last week of our unit on Inventions was spent building models/prototypes of our inventions.  We used materials that were available to us, cardboard, fabric, old bottles, cushions and toys.    The final products were astoundingly creative.  Most impressive were the number of adjustments and changes each child made to his or her invention.  There were many challenges, and like true inventors, the Magical Minds dealt with each one as part of the process.  In the end, we had a magical collection of inventions.
Back Row: Henry’s Pencil Lamp, Josephine’s Learning Ball, Alexandra’s Pencil Ball, Klara’s Brother BeGone Spray, Viola’s Pencil Lamp.
Front Row: Sophie’s Pencil Pillow, Nathan’s Huge Wallet.
For more information about these inventions and more, check out their Invention Book.

Independent Study Leads to Stop Motion Film

Independent Study time is a favorite among the Magical Minds and myself. It is a time when the third graders can work on projects of their choice. We have created a list of activities they can choose from, but most of the third graders spend their independent study time writing. They write comics, stories, poems and diary entries. When we are the middle of an inquiry project, the kids will often choose to use that time to finish up keynotes, popplets, prezis, etc…

But, every once in a while something completely unexpected happens. The other day Nathan asked to use the camera to make a stop motion film. I hesitated, but then agreed. “But, I am busy helping the others finish up their projects. Do you think you will be alright on your own?” He nodded and bounced off with confidence.

Fifteen minutes later, he came back with this… Well, not exactly. I added the music and uploaded it, but he shot the stills. Amazing! I don’t know how he figured out the basic idea of how to make a stop motion film…but he did.

If you give a kid a camera, you might just get this:

Skype Date with Russia

Inspired by a slew of educators/bloggers, I joined Skype in the Classroom. Knee deep in a unit on Natural Resources, I went to the website looking for a connection to sustainability or Earth appreciation.   And, I found this…

Bingo!  That was exactly the kind of connection I was hoping to make.  I wrote back…

Kseniya quickly got back to me, and we began an email conversation about our goals for this Skype Date.  We created a Google Doc, which allowed us to expand our thinking, feeding off each other’s ideas:

On the day of our Skype Date, I rearranged the chairs and tables so that all the kids could be seen on the video, and I projected Russia’s video feed onto our whiteboard.

NOTE: I would change this. Although, it was nice for Ksenija’s kids to see ALL of us, it was hard for them to hear us.  The Magical Minds suggested we use a microphone, or have individual kids sit by the computer when they wanted to say something.

When the Magical Minds finished lunch, they returned to class all excited for our international connection.  They squirmed in their chairs, squealing at the sound of the Skype ringtone.  Unfortunately (but not that unexpected), we experienced about 5 minutes of severe technical difficulties.  This is a classic technology-glitch and a worthwhile learning experience in its own right, but nonetheless frustrating.  Luckily Ms. Maureen was there to keep the Magical Minds settled while I focused on improving the connection.  In the end there remained a noticeable delay and we struggled to hear the other class.

NOTE: The Magical Minds suggested we test the technology and connection at a previous time, perhaps having a Skype Date between teachers to fix any glitches, or adjust the plan in order to better match the technological capabilities.

We began by introducing ourselves (takes too much time).  Ksenija’s kids had thankfully rehearsed some lines about Earth Day and taking care of the planet.  We were not so prepared. We had studied the discussion questions, thinking through our answers, but alas, the technological difficulties made this kind of interaction impossible.

We agreed later that the best part of the Skype Date was when the Russian class sang a song, and shared some artwork they had made.  We clapped and said, “Thank You.”  Inspired by their work, I grabbed Klara’s sustainability poster and asked her to explain what it was about.  They clapped and said, “Thank You.”

Klara's Sustainability Poster

And just like that, our time was up.  I think we all felt a bit disheartened.  But, even though the kids and I were disappointed that our connection wasn’t so good, we still wanted to do it again.  We spent the last five to ten minutes reflecting on what worked, what didn’t work and what we could do to improve our next Skype Date.

Just a Few of the Things We Would Do Next Time:

  • sit the speaker closer to the computer/microphone
  • spend more time researching and learning about the place and people we are visiting (possible sending questions ahead of time)
  • practice Skyping with someone familiar to us: test technology, seating arrangements, sound and behavior expectations
  • engage kids during Skype call with jobs such as documenting, reflecting, researching, etc…
  • prepare a presentation of sorts (rehearsed)
If only I had seen this post beforehand.  Silvia Tolisano does a fantastic job of organizing and preparing her class for Skype calls.  Here is a video of her kids explaining how they approach educational skyping.  [vimeo 16180041]

What Does Sustainable Mean To You?

The third graders had one week to flush out the concept of sustainability through the use of mind maps.  Most of the Magical Minds chose to use Prezi to share what they know, but we also had one Popplet user.

To help guide their thinking, I gave them the following worksheet:


Click here to see their heartfelt, caring and insightful presentations:


Renewable or Not?

During our first week of our Natural Resources Unit of Inquiry, I challenged the third graders to pick a natural resource and explain how it was or was not a renewable resource.  The third graders explored this topic through web resources, books and conversations with me.

As a “guide on the side,” I found the truly meaningful learning happened during mini-conferences with each individual.  While discussing the renewability of animals, J and I also talked about extinction, which inspired a Google question about the most endangered animals.  While researching gold, S and I searched for images of mines, and talked about the damage caused by strip mining.  I invite you to click here to see their final projects, which we shared in class at the end of the day on Friday.

Here is just one example of the projects from last week: