Friday, May 4, 2018

Maker Space Failures

     There are many posts written about successful Maker space activities.  I wanted to write a post about a recent Maker space failure.  One idea I have wanted to try for a long time was to build a wind tunnel.  I had a roll of material that looks like lamination, but was not, and several type of tape to hold it together.  I purchased some dowel rods and had a mound of donated cardboard to use for supports.  We looked at pictures and models.  We had all the materials and a plan; I thought we were primed for success.

      Students attempted to build a wind tunnel, and created some flying objects to test in it.  Not a single object even flew!  But they loved it!  A group of 8 students who had not participated in our Library's Maker program came out and for the entire 30 minute block of time they build and rebuilt their flying machines-even though not a single one of their creations left the ground.

      We are in the midst of testing season, teachers were asked to develop a series of fun activities for the afternoon of the last day of testing.  I decided to offer the wind tunnel session one more time.  A different group of students attended, and we looked at some more pictures of wind tunnels, agreed on a plan and began to build.

      Things went much differently this time.  All students jumped in to create wind tunnels.  There were two fans-one small circular fan and a larger box fan.  Most students formed a large group and chose to use the larger box fan for their wind tunnel.  One student decided to create his own design on the side using the smaller fan.

      We had one student who immediately moved off to the side.  She is a talented artist, and is a little shy.  On her own, she sketched up a plan of what a working wind tunnel would look like.

       In spite of the initial lack of success, I would definitely call the wind tunnel project a success on several levels:

                                                                1. Seeing the possibilities of making
     On the first day, 8 students who had not signed up for Maker space activity this year did.  They were engaged in building flying objects for the duration.  They now understand the possibilities and fun of making!  I anticipate that I will see them again for upcoming Maker space activities

2. The power of student choice in making
       I had originally thought that there would be one large group all working together on the same wind tunnel.  I was wrong.  Instead,  students formed groups that worked for them.  Most students did choose to work in the large group, while one student created his own wind tunnel design.  The other student self selected how she would make by sketching out how she thought the wind tunnel should look.  She created a "space" for herself to participate.

3. The power of failure
     The fact that our first wind tunnel project had no flying objects leave the ground helped to build resilience in the student makers.  It did not deter them from continuing to try.  The perceived failure of the first day, also empowered me as the instructor to rethink some components of the project and schedule to try it again.  We actually started the second day's attempt by looking at the earlier failed designs.

Evaluating these failures powered our later successes!

What failures have your experienced in your Maker programs and how have they been turned into successes?

Check out our successful launch below!

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

Stretching Out of Students' Minds with the Google A Week Contest

     A couple of years ago, I attended a Google Summit in Conway, Arkansas with a group of teachers from my school.  We left with a passel of ideas about how we could infuse our curriculum with Google Apps for Education.  The two hour drive home featured a series of conversations casting a vision for what our school could be like if we implemented Google tools at Lakeside.  Looking back on the conference, it was an event which has profoundly shaped how instruction is delivered at my school.

     One of the concepts I learned about at the Google Summit was the Google A Day contest.  In its original form, I would selected one of the questions from the Google A Day and use it for the Google A Week contest on my campus.  The Google Question of the Week has evolved to focus on current events and curricular topics.  It has become a popular addition to the daily announcement broadcast.  Over time, the Google Question of the Week has become a staple of the library program.

How it works

     Each Monday, a new question is posted on the daily school wide video broadcast as well as on posters throughout the school halls.  Students have until Friday at the end of the school day to turn in their name, the correct answer, and the website where the answer came from on a slip of paper.

      On Fridays, right before I leave for the day, I sift the answers and pile up the correct ones.  Then one correct answer is selected at random as the Google a Week winner.  Sometimes I will also enlist the help of a library patron who is present in the last period of the day to select the winner.  The winner is announced on next week's campus wide video broadcast.  Each week's winner is also entered in the Google A Week Championships (or G.A.W. CHA)  which is held in the Spring each year.  To read more about this event, check out this blog post about it.

      Frequently the questions are related to current events, topics students are studying in class or an obscure story I heard on public radio during my morning commute.  I will often hear from students when they see the question-"we just talked about that in class the other day!"  It ends up being a research opportunity even if they think they remember the answer since they are required to locate a web based source for their information.  It also provides another opportunity for teachers and students to discuss what they are learning.  This is also an easy way to document how we are supporting the school's instructional program as a library media specialist.

     Usually I will make adjustments from the original question to make it "unGoogleable".  For example, I located the question: What was America's best selling book in 2016?  To make this question "unGoogleable", I refocused the question to become: who was the main character of America's bestselling book in 2016?

     By making this change, the question also became more difficult because students had to look into both fiction and nonfiction bestseller lists since each type of books could have characters.  They also had to conduct deeper inquiry to determine who the main character of that work was.

     Adjusting questions this way reinforces the research skills I want to cultivate in my students.  Through the process of locating the answer, students are building reading stamina.  Students sometimes have to look at multiple websites and go beyond just reading the "abstract" on their initial search.  By doing this, they are building reading and research stamina that will help them to engage in more complex texts.

     Instead of just typing in the question and locating the answer, I encourage the students to "cut the question like a steak."  What I mean by this is to cut off the "bones and fat" (the unnecessary words) which develops their skills at identifying keywords to narrow their search and further limits their search results.  My goal is that my students will be so familiar and comfortable with "cutting the question like a steak" that they will transfer this skills to attack the research questions which are posed in their classes in this manner.

The Future of Google a Week

      In the future, I would like to grow the Google A Week program to include more faculty participation.  Historically we have a few teachers and staff members enter the weekly contest.  I think it would encourage more students to participate if they felt like they were competing against their teachers!

     Another way I would like to grow the program is to further integrate it with database use.  Not only would it give students more experience using the databases in the contest, but I also think this would go a long way to reinforcing the use of databases as students' "go to" research resource for projects in their classes.  It might require a bit more work to develop questions that could only be answered using our state funded databases, but the long term impact might make it work it.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Taking Half Chances for Our Students

     The English Premier League (EPL) is the best soccer/futbol league on earth.  It pits the best defenders against the finest attacking players from around the world.  Because the stakes are so high, players are forced to take "half chances" at the goal.  At any moment, even a brief opening can lead to a goal.  I believe we have to approach our jobs as Media Specialists like we are EPL strikers to seek out and take these half chances for our students and teachers to benefit their instruction and learning.

     This year, the Lakeside Book Club (L.B.C) opened during lunch.  Students sign a voluntary contract to read a section of a popular YA novel each week and discuss the novel during lunch time.  In return, students get to keep a copy of the book for their own to build their personal library or share with friends/family. Our goal this year is to read 4 novels in this fashion.

     Before the L.B.C. reads a novel, we visit with a guest expert to get steeped in the vocabulary and terminology related to the topics discussed in the novel.  Sometimes, we visit with a local expert, and sometimes we meet with an expert through a Skype visit, or Google Hangout.
     To line up a guest expert for our first novel, I took one of those half chances.  The first novel we are reading for book club this year called the Rule of Three by Eric Walters.  I was listening to National Public Radio's show called Fresh Air.  The speaker that night happened to be an anthropology professor from McGill University in Canada named Dr. Gretchen Bakke.

     Although her background is anthropology, she was being interviewed on the program about her new book about the power grid issues/crisis. The content of the Rule of Three was a perfect match for Dr. Bakke's area of expertise! It is a dystopian thriller where the power grid fails all the power goes out across the global causing all sorts of unthinkable disasters to arise.

     So I took a half chance and emailed Dr. Bakke to see if she would video conference with us. Conveniently, she has her Wednesdays free from teaching obligations.  We just so happened to be meeting for book club on ....Wednesdays.  So because I took a half chance, 40 students in the book club got to become steeped in the issues of our current power grid and are now better prepared to discuss and read the Rule of Three, a novel about when the power grid is no more!

     I have been looking for ways to make library programming more student centered. Meeting with Dr. Bakke via Skype helped to make this a reality.   During our first book club meeting the week before, I asked students to post questions on a Padlet that they had about the power grid and its issues.  These questions were sent to Dr. Bakke ahead of our Skype visit and were used to drive the discussion.

     Taking this half chance and contacting Dr. Bakke turned into a golden opportunity for my students.  Not only did they learn the vocabulary and terminology related to the electrical power grid failing,  they also were empowered to share and have their questions answered by a world renowned expert on the topic.

     They also got to see the Growth Mindset in action.  What if as media specialists this year we made it our goal to consistently model/embrace taking these "half chances" for our students and asking important "what ifs" about instruction and delivering our content?  What kinds of incredible opportunities it could lead to for our students!

May that be our goal as this new year of 2017 begins!

Please share with me about how you are taking half chances for your students in 2017 and beyond!

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