Reflecting on making and building, and how students can embrace struggle in learning

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I started off this week in Kodiak where I attended the Virtual Learning Conference (#kibsdvlc) hosted by the Kodiak Island Borough School District.  I was invited to attend by my friend and fellow EdTech colleague Nicole Fuerst (@nfuerst2) who is the Professional Development Coordinator at AKTeach.  I also enjoyed meeting Dr. Lee Graham (@ak_leeg) for the first time in person!  I’ve spent many, many hours talking with her online throughout this past year that I’ve been studying under her guidance, so I was very excited to share this experience with her!  At the conference I learned about drones, how they are being used in various communities and youth programs, and how to build and fly within a very short span of time!

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I enjoyed learning about all the different components and thinking back to what I learned in physics class many moons ago, still one of my favorite science classes because of all the math involved.


On top of a very engaging and hands-on workshop, meeting teachers from different parts of Alaska was truly a highlight of my time at the conference.  It was enlightening to hear their stories and to get a sense of the challenges they face in their professional practice but also the great work they are doing to support students.  Another takeaway for me, was tapping into my love of making, designing, and creating; building a drone was “easy” in the sense that we had all the components but we had to create a design, test it, make modifications, troubleshoot issues, recalibrate if needed, and fly again, and again, and again!  I loved that we did all of this as a group and enjoyed the process as much as the final product.

20150602_145640I did crash my drone in the end, in a pretty spectacular way, but I still enjoyed the experience and walked away with a fever to tinker again with a drone in the near future!

I was also happy to see that my Arduino kit finally arrived this week and being in the Hangout with my peers was more enjoyable because I was able to build my base and start the projects.

I ended the night after completing the Spaceship Project (#2) and I’m understanding the circuits and various components much better than when I started.  Sometimes when the instructions or guides in the book were not clear, I added my own notes in the project book to add details that I felt would have been more helpful.  I like to see pictures but I also found the schematic views used in the book to be very helpful in understanding the connections between components in the kit.

My experience at the conference was a fitting prelude to the essential question this week about struggle and allowing students to figure out challenges for themselves.  I was inspired by the TMI design model and I’m looking forward to implementing that in a maker space this summer with my nieces and nephew and any of their friends who want to join them.  In reading other blogs, I found that we all agree in the importance of letting a healthy amount of challenge and struggle take place in the classroom based on our knowledge and observations of students.  @ScottRoleff took a different approach by examining how teachers ask questions and the strategies they use to allow wait time for answers.  I shared that I feel I have to try many different strategies with older students including having students ask guided questions, having students write questions that others can ask and answer, allowing discussion in small groups to arrive at answers, and even requiring a minimum wait period before any students can answer, thereby prompting students to think through and write their answer to share with everyone.  @DuncanSSD made an important point in her blog about teachers needing to model their reactions to setback and mistakes in the classroom.  I responded that no only does modeling learning through struggle make it safe for students, it also makes it safe for teachers.  I shared that in my programs, we regularly discuss feedback through the SWOT process where we reflect on our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  If students can visualize their process like a flow chart where challenge, interruptions, and mistakes can lead them in a new direction rather than backwards, it can help them to embrace challenges and to not be discouraged and disappointed with mistakes to the point where they quit out of frustrations.  @ak_agryga shared her differentiated approach to supporting students to struggle in their learning process.  I found myself re-reading her blog as a student and suggested that maybe as teachers, we can be transparent about our approach so that students will appreciate our efforts to differentiate their learning.  Just like classroom expectations can set the tone and give students and understanding of how teachers will intervene when needed, we can also articulate to students how we help them differently at various intervals depending on their individual needs, interests, and abilities.  @cherbabes shared her approach in working with kindergartners; I found this interesting because that’s the age where making, tinkering, and playing come most naturally for children.  I shared with her an experience I had in talking to several teenage girls in my program about why they prefer advice from friends over “wise”, capable, experienced, and well-meaning adults.  They helped me to see my role as a guide was better served giving them experience combined with information that would help them make decision for themselves rather than following any pre-prescribed process of thinking that I had in mind.  @teacherak14 wrote about her experience working with a large number of students and how that impacted her ability to support them effectively to struggle in a constructive way.  I suggested that we can start off the school year by setting a tone and fostering a culture of learning that supports mistakes and struggle; as the year progresses we can slowly remove the scaffolding as students gain more confidence and become less fearful and hesitant to “fail” in their learning process.  @OrtizJad4est shared her approach to ask students to “Think Like A Scientist!” which was described so wonderfully in our text reading this week.  I rewrote her list of traits that she quoted from the reading and suggested that they could be a great classroom inspiration for learning poster:

In this class, you will Think Like A Scientist!

This means you will…

…follow your hunches,

…try things again and again,

…make mistakes,


…start over,

…challenge others,

…take a break,

…collaborate with others,

and even take water breaks!

Any thoughts, feelings, opinions, suggestions?

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