WOW!! The past 8 weeks have flown by…As this week marks the end of CEP 811 (adapting innovative technology to education), I will conclude my work in this course with a reflective blog post that addresses my experiences in this course, my work with Squishy Circuits, my plan for incorporating design, creativity, and Maker Education into my curriculum, and my growth both personally and professionally since starting the MAET program.
When I concluded the CEP 810 course, I felt like I had a handle on how to effectively use technology to support learning but I wasn’t quite sure how to do so effectively. Now, as I reflect on CEP 811, I am aware of an abundant amount of tools and resources that I can use in my classroom to effectively support learning and understanding; this course addressed and answered the questions I left CEP 810 with. This course forced me to consider the resources and the purpose they serve in my classroom.
After deeply engaging with Maker Education & Squishy Circuits the past few weeks, I feel like I have been exposed to a whole new approach to teaching and learning…well not entirely, creative learning by doing is not a new concept nor is it new to me as a teacher; however, somewhere along the way, I lost track of my purpose for becoming a math teacher: to take learning from a noun to a verb by providing authentic, creative tasks that spark learners’ curiosity and make learning math worthwhile and meaningful and got caught up in the logistics and politics of public education. And lets be honest, sometimes I’m just trying to keep my head above water, but still, it’s kind of sad how a kid who hated math became a teacher who so easily lost site of her teaching goals. This course was kind of a reality check for me. It really made me consider the teacher I want to be and the teacher that I am. It forced me to consider the purpose for my choices- every step of the way. Did I plan according to my purpose? Do my goals match my purpose? Does my blog post match the purpose of the assignment? Can people that read my blog see the purpose of my post? Do my learners see the purpose of the task? Does the purpose intrinsically motivate? Does that tool serve a purpose? And so on… everything in this course seemed to boil down to the purpose for the choices I was making, whether they were choices I made as a MAET student or as a geometry teacher… and I really had to think hard about those choices! Reflection really helped me understand everything I was reconsidering about teaching and learning.
In terms of our maker kit, Squishy Circuits turned out to be a fairly easy kit to set up and use. The website included instructions that were easy to follow and video tutorials that explained how and why squishy circuits work. The “play” stage was exciting. I was so excited when I got the first LED to light up. However, once I began to create my first Maker Experiment using a repurposed thrift shop item, the excitement faded and the frustration set in. I felt like my students often look when I introduce a new concept: a deer in headlights. The idea of using a dough circuit in Geometry class was not ideal. I had no idea where to begin. I started several activities using Squishy Circuits only to find that the task I planned was not authentic and could be more effectively completed without the maker kit. It wasn’t until I spent time reflecting on my commitment to relentlessly creating a worthwhile task for my geometry class using Squishy Circuits that I realized the value of the maker kit and repurposing assignment was actually in the learning process itself. You can read about this in my maker experiment lesson plan blog post as I explain how my students could use Squishy Circuits to support their understanding and development of writing proofs as a logical process, not a final product. If my teaching goal is to help learners understand the learning process or get them have a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset, then I would consider Squishy Circuits. However, in terms of “making” and “doing” in geometry, I believe there are far more creative and effective methods of approaching the content, which I will elaborate more on towards the end. I often felt like I was forcing Squishy Circuits into my curriculum…it only seemed to work as a way to understand logical thought processes, which, again, could be explained using a scenario or more timely activity.
Although I don’t plan to use Squishy Circuits in my classroom, playing and designing with the Squishy Circuits kit, at minimum, gave me a greater appreciation for the learning process and forced me to reevaluate my teaching practices. As I progressed and designed using my kit, I was reminded of the importance of experimentation and play while developing new understanding. Using the kits forced me to be a creative thinker, approach learning from new angles, and use tools that I would not typically use. For these reasons, and several listed above, I plan to refocus my teaching and curriculum to include design thinking and “making” through creative experimentation. Actually, it was through this creative process that I learned to love math. I learned math by writing…and never erasing. Through writing I was able to see a purpose for learning math that was more than the mundane. I was able to identify patterns, reflect on mistakes and connections along the way. However, this course helped me realize that not everyone will appreciate the creativity and freedom I found through writing in math class. The assignments, especially the maker kit, forced me to learn from angles I wouldn’t typically choose using tools that made me uncomfortable. It helped me value choice and individual approaches to learning, but it also helped me value the new learning that is achieved by considering different methods of learning. Throughout CEP 811, it was the diverse learning approaches and tools that helped me realize the importance of providing a variety of tools and choices that serve a purpose and make learning worthwhile. Through these experiences, I learned how to assess learning goals and present problems that force students to think and reflect; problems that are designed to change their way of thinking, spark their curiosity, encourage them to try new things, and encourage them to grow as learners and doers of math… just as Squishy Circuits did for me.
“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”
In the future, I hope to better embrace my learners’ curiosity. Unfortunately, Grant Wiggins (2012) an assessment expert found that mathematics teachers are prime offenders in encouraging creative thinking in the subject-despite the fact that real mathematicians create all the time. Mathematicians have worked for years to create formulas and theorems that make complicated ideas simple. Consider Euclid, he created a beautiful, axiomatic system for writing geometric proofs, a system that all high school geometry students have experience using. Harsh truth: I’ve become one of those offenders. I don’t know if I’ve become a realist or a tiny bit jaded, but this year I seem to find my self thinking and saying, “wouldn’t that be nice?” regarding my students’ creative thoughts and dreams. But, like JT said: “the old me is dead and gone.” This course has inspired me to reinvent myself as the creative math teacher I once was. To constantly question, “how can I do this better,” and while I don’t believe Squishy Circuits is the most effective method of embracing curiosity in geometry, I do know of several other experiments, problem scenarios or activities that support creative thinking and problem solving. Last year my math support classes and geometry classes created math music videos. Groups of students picked songs and rewrote the lyrics to teach a math concept. It was through their writing that they were forced to reflect on their understanding of the concept and whether or not their lyrics made sense. I had students consider whether they were being deceived as shoppers by evaluating the surface area, volume and unit pricing of grocery products. Through this learning activity students began to question whether there was a way they could design packages better. We also created tetrahedral kits and flew them. In small groups, students identified algebraic patterns in the kite’s structure and naturally began to wonder about how they could re-create a kite with a better structure. Through these activities, my students wondered about things in terms of their goal as a designer. They questioned the weight of the kite, the materials of a product, the words and their meaning, etc. Better yet, I didn’t have to prompt them. They were intrinsically motivated. I was teaching with a purpose, which is kind of like when you read a really good book or watch a great movie and feel changed; you are transformed. Teaching this way allows you to watch your students transform into learners… and better yet, I (the teacher) am transformed watching them transform. There’s nothing better than watching someone cease to hate math and begin to love it…besides maybe feeling that way yourself. Like I said previously, the creative process of “making” and “doing” in math class isn’t new to me. Based on my experiences I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that these are effective learning practices…this course helped re-inspire me. I was able to see the value of this learning first-hand. Through my reflection, I was reminded the effectiveness of reflection and writing as a way to evaluate understanding. And while Wiggins (2012) provided a great rubric for assessing creativity, I believe the bulleted points on his rubric occur naturally in the classroom when students are given the chance to creative problem solvers…a rubric isn’t really necessary. The interactions in the classroom allow me to formatively assess understanding and inform my instructional decisions. Like I discussed in my post, the curiosity and discussion that occurs as students create, play, and try new things allows me to assess their understanding. Through formative assessments I will be able to assess the effectiveness of the task in terms of the learning goal and purpose. My students’ ability to take a tetrahedral kite activity to the next level by wondering how they can recreate a more effective kite structure, whether they consider the materials or lift, shows me that they are learning, understanding, and ready to make something great.
Overall, this course was much more of a challenge for me than CEP810. Squishy Circuits wasn’t as enjoyable as the task I completed in CEP 810: learning to play the guitar using only help forums online. I was uncomfortable using circuits and often wondered if there were other maker kits that would better support math curriculum. After learning about the Maker Faire I began to consider the “maker kits” I could potentially create for my classroom. Since geometry literally means the measurement of the earth, I began to wonder about maker kits that would support geometric learning outside of the traditional classroom. Comparing the Maker Kit project in CEP811 to the Network Learning Project in CEP 810 helped me value choice in learning and assessment methods. We really had no limitations on what we chose to learn. At times I felt limited by the Squishy Circuits Maker Kit, but like I reflected on above, I did learn a lot from working outside of my comfort zone. Moreover, this course was especially beneficial in terms of putting ideas into practice. I learned a TON about resources available to me as an educator and how to assess whether the resources are effective tools in my classroom. Within that realm, I learned the importance of providing diverse learning experiences that remove barriers. I considered small details, such as text-t0-speech, that I had never considered before and I learned where to find them FOR FREE online. Most importantly, this course helped me realize that I need to focus on my purpose as an educator and reflect on that as I plan learning activities for my students.
Wiggins, G. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: Yes you can, and yes you should. [Web log comment]. Retreived from http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/on-assessing-for-creativity-yes-you-can-and-yes-you-should/