Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Day in the Life of an MJGDS 3rd Grader

Our 3rd graders created this Voicethread showing what it is like to be a 3rd grader at MJGDS. They planned it, took all photos of Sammy, the class teddy bear, and recorded comments in Voicethread.
Please watch, listen and enjoy a peek into our school.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society

In an earlier post, The Science of Play, I shared my ideas about the importance of playful learning, the type of learning observed in very young children. In my personal experience as a teacher, I have seen that as children mature they often lose some or all of their natural comfort with learning through spontaneous and playful exploration.
Think of a toddler with a big pile of blocks. Does the toddler ask an adult, "What should I do with these blocks?" or does a toddler start with a "product" like a big tower in mind and ask, "How do I stack these blocks to make a tower?" No, the toddler jumps right in and begins to explore, trying whatever he or she wants to try. Does the toddler feel upset and frustrated when the tower of blocks topples over? Doubtful. It is more likely that he or she is delighted by this and may knock it over and rebuild it again and again.

MIT recognizes the importance of the creative exploration of early childhood to the extent that they have created an entity called The Lifelong Kindergarten group.


Lifelong Kindergarten :: MIT Media Lab via kwout

As part of their mission to "sow the seeds for a more creative society," the MIT media lab has developed a free program called Scratch that encourages the kind of open-ended exploration and creative problem solving that is not on the test, but that promotes the trial and error learning that is the heart of math, science and technological innovation. The beauty of Scratch and similar applications is that while the processes they engage are complex, most children are naturally drawn to them and find them fun. Kids ask to "play Scratch."

In my STEM classes and, to a lesser extent, my weekly lab classes I attempt to provide students with the time and space to engage in this kind of exploration using freely available resources. In my role as the teacher I model possible approaches, support students in their attempts, validate and encourage them as they proceed, and open the door by introducing them to what's out there. When appropriate, I push students to go a little deeper. Some students are more inclined than others to enjoy the open-ended, for those who require more structure I can help by defining a problem or assignment for them. I can also help them to reflect on their learning styles so that they grow in an understanding of their own abilities. Some students can't wait to get to the computer and play, others prefer a tutorial (there are many tutorials online for most applications. It can be great practice and reflection to have students who are more advanced create tutorials for others), some students are more comfortable watching first before trying. Any and all approaches to learning are valid as long as students understand the process and challenge themselves.

In addition to Scratch, here are some other recommended resources for open-ended, creative exploration:

Whizzball -from Discovery Education, whizzball is a puzzle creator. Students can design puzzles, submit their puzzles for others to solve and solve puzzles created by others. I have found this to be challenging and fun for grades 1-5.

Fantastic Contraption- physics challenge. Use the materials provided to create a contraption that solves the challenge of getting something from point A to point B. There are multiple challenges and endless solutions. I am using this with a first grade STEM enrichment class, and they LOVE it. I could see it being popular with older students as well, although I haven't introduced to other grades yet.

Lego Digital Designer - design tool using virtual legos.

PHUN - 2D physics sandbox. This one is more advanced. I recommend viewing at least one tutorial before jumping in to play. I used this with 5th grade, and it was fun (phun) at first, but many of them became frustrated quickly.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Teach Paperless for Earth Day

I just joined over 475 teachers around the world who have pledged to teach paperless on April 22nd in celebration of Earth Day. I pledged to "use no paper and accept no paper in my classroom this Earth Day," so I will also be turning off the laser printer that resides in my classroom for the day.
Please join the pledge, yourself, by signing up here.

I have invited/challenged all of my fellow "in the building" teachers to join me, as well. It would be wonderful if our whole school would embrace a paperless day. Our school is part of a synagogue, and I plan to try to inspire the synagogue staff to also pledge to go paperless on April 22nd.

I think it will be fun to share creative ideas for a day of being thoughtfully paperless. I know that many people will be using technology to replace paper, and, of course, so will I. You and your students might enjoy a digital camera scavenger hunt. You could create one with a special theme for Earth Day.
There are lots of non-tech ways to go paperless as well.
I recently had a guest in my classroom who made recycled paper with the students. It wasn't too difficult, just required a few special supplies. I have offered to (attempt to) replicate this project with any interested class. It's a different take on the paperless idea, using previously discarded paper to create something unique and beautiful.

Paula White shared this idea with accompanying photo on twitter: Paperless means kids use dry erase markers on tables and then antibacterial wipe to clean.

Just a few thoughts and ideas. The possibilities for paperless learning, creating and sharing are almost endless. Please share additional links and ideas in the comments.