Saturday, March 30, 2013

Session 6: Social Creativity Notes

Gerhard Fischer

His Website

Sources for creativity
-space (location)?
-temporal differences?
-conceptual differences?
-different inputs and insights

Learning from Remixing
-Not copying, but building upon
-Which types of problems assigned? Is there one or more than one answer

-bring as many different points of views to interesting problem as possible
-At EDC, people were in the same physical space, but brought many different viewpoints
-urban planners, neighborhood reps, etc
-people argue different ideas
-outcomes are not process of one single mind, but many creative people collaboratively 

-building 3D models of all world buildings

Designing for Social Creativity
-courses as "seeds"
-things are starting points for others
-designing for meta-design
-design for designers

How do we value different activity?
Working together is often seen as cheating?
How can we differentiate roles with different roles and opportunity?
Levels of participation? 

Andres Monroy-Hernandez

Studied “remixing” in Scratch
-inspiration comes from outside Scratch
-painting, music
-about quarter of projects in Scratch are remixes
-many people, although not everybody, gets started by remixing
-intrinsic, scaffolding learning 

Remixing as a way of idea diffusion

Learning from Remixing
-Remixing can allow learner to met HIS/HER goals
-If tasks are easy, than the opportunity is their for little learning (copying and cheating)
-If more than information retrieval, students will have to look to many sources.

Designing for Social Creativity
-community building activity as well as pragmatic goal oriented activity
-technologies are available to allow both now

Mitch Resnick

SIGSE- Democratic Futures Conference
Differences in MOOC approaches

How do we support social infrastructure?

Some changes to this week's "lecture panel"
-More media
-More participatory
-More chat

Image of Rodin's The Thinker
-isolated human thinking by self
-this image hinders looking at thinking as collaborative, group, creative idea
-How do we move beyond this image to a more active idea?

-Remixing as a much easier way to "enter learning"
-Serves as a scaffolding for learning

Monday, March 25, 2013

Minecraft as the Ultimate Educational Tool?

Is Minecraft the Ultimate Educational Tool? | Idea Channel | PBS

This is rad...

And I don't even play, but I know my students do!


Remixing in Scratch
(1) Log on to Scratch. (If you’re to Scratch, go to New to Scratch?)  
(2) Explore projects in the Scratch website and find a project you would like to remix.
(3) Download the project and modify it in Scratch.
(4) Click the “Share” button to share your remix.
(5) In your project notes, explain what you changed and give credit.
(6) Add your project to the 
[LCL] Remix Gallery.

Go here to play if it does not load:

First and foremost, thank the heavens for the ability to learn from others on Scratch. Without the wonderful ability to look inside and dissect other people's work, I would most likely have nothing. Programming, even something simple like Scratch, is akin to brain surgery for me. It is a foreign skill. Until now, I never found it necessary, interesting, or important. I was never surrounded by friends or an immediate culture that held it in esteem. Now, as my intrinsic fascination with programming and computer technology grows, I wish I had a greater foundation of knowledge. Currently, I am playing a sick game of catch up.

In order to improve my skills, I basically have three options. I could go back to formal schooling, I could buy some books, or I could tinker with others online. Of the three, the latter seems very practical. The only question is, does it work? I would argue that of the three, the third is not only a practical process, but produces the most practical products. The third allows you to work with others to produce real products. The consumer/producer dichotomy is thrown on its head. For this reason, it appeals to me.

Something seems to be missing though. If I was going to put my finger on what prevents this online creative learning from truly transforming my knowledge, I point to time and perseverance. With my skills being so low, I need time to play, learn, and tinker. Not just a bit of time, but a LOT OF TIME. How can I possibly devote the amount of time needed to learn the skills when I start from such a low baseline of knowledge? It is true you make time for things you really enjoy, but finding the massive amounts of time for proficiency is daunting. When you have a mentor, teacher, or coach, they may scaffold learning to make skills improve quicker. Some may see a more direct line of improvement. Where to find the time and make the most of my time?

In my very amateur attempts to program and learn more advanced computer concepts, I hit a wall very quickly. I have visions of what I want to do, but upon effort it becomes apparent how far away I am from getting there. Lots of trial and error, learning, and frustration mark my attempts. I have to attack my learning with perseverance. It is very easy for me to give up. In order to learn this new skill, I have to push through my frustrations and embrace the ground that is not knowing. When the gap between effectiveness and skill is so large, it is very easy for one to give up. Perseverance is thus an immensely valuable and necessary component to learning in these new spaces. Without formal guides or guidance, one must be willing to encounter all obstacles and hiccups. This is not easy. The two variables, time and perseverance, are not stressed enough in formal schooling. Time to tinker, play, and learn autonomously is in short supply throughout the school day. Furthermore, perseverance is not stressed as one gets a test, gets a score, and one moves on. There is no place for failure in the school system. If you fail once, the whole world explodes. If we want people to feel more comfortable in these open learning environments, we may need to think about how we mold perseverance and how we use time.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Week 6 Readings

The topic for week six is Social Creativity. Three major readings were assigned this week and you can find links to each piece here:

* Gerhard Fischer (2011): Understanding, Fostering, and Supporting Cultures of Participation. Interactions.

* Designing a website for creative learning
Andrés Monroy-Hernández

Designing for Remixing:
Supporting an Online Community of Amateur Creators
by Andr´es Monroy-Hern´andez

Fisher's work mixes theory with burgeoning empirical knowledge on participatory cultures. In Fisher's article, he offers a primary framework for setting up and maintaining effective cultures of participation. Cultures of participation move users from being passive consumers to engaged, active designers and contributors. Social computing allows for people to create and work with one another, to construct knowledge and products in a way thought unimaginable before.

Fisher writes, "innovative technologies are necessary for cultures of participation, but not sufficient." For this reason, Fisher offers major components of an emerging framework able to drive cultures of participation and social creativity. Simply stated, he says, "Goals should be to engage diverse audience, enhance creativity, and foster collaboration among  users acting as designers and contributors.

There are three major pieces to this framework

1. Meta-Design
-"design for designers"
-creating open systems at design time
-future problems and questions cannot be completely anticipated at design time
-contributors should not feel intimidated to make changes
-some type of benefit must be gained in exchange for time and effort
-low barriers to sharing
-designers must become meta-designers

2. Social Creativity
- increasing social creativity requires diversity in the sense each participant should have some specialization and localized knowledge
-also requires aggregation, turning individual contributions into collections
-based on the assumption that the unaided individual mind is limited
-must be motivated to contribute and be allowed to contribute

3. Richer Ecologies of Participation
-cultures of participation must handle the start-up paradox, when early in their life cycle they have few members to generate content and little content to attract members
-instead of building complete system at design time, should build seeds that can evolve over time
-Periods of planned activity (seeding), unplanned evolution (evolutionary growth phase), and periods of deliberate restructuring (reseeding)
-Not every participant must participate, but the must have the opportunity to
-Mechanism needed for motivation, involvement, and innovation
-”low threshold, high ceiling”
-scaffolding mechanism to support migrating paths
-support for different levels of participation
-rewards and incentives for final effort

In Designing a Website for Creative Learning, Andrés Monroy-Hernández describes how the website Scratch evolved into a hub for social creativity. If one reads Hernández's piece after Fisher's, it becomes clear why Scratch is successful at promoting a culture of participation. Scratch employs much of the framework Fisher implies is necessary for success. What is most interesting about Scratch is the number of young people working together to create games, animations, videos, and stories. Many of the projects on Scratch would be impossible if done by individuals. Adolescents and teens figured out early that for the success of some projects, different talents and skills were needed. If they all collaborated and contributed, the end was made greater than the pieces. This is a remarkable understanding for young people.

In the context of the two articles, I was struck by the idea that we have a moral obligation to share. This sense comes from the understanding that almost all of our knowledge and understanding comes from the aid of other people. Along the way, countless teachers, coaches, mentors, and people contribute to our unique understanding of the world. There are few places like the Internet were this shared sense of knowledge is put into action. Furthermore, I can only push my knowledge so far. If I offer up my understanding and thought for others, advancement can be achieved. Do arguments like this push people to greater openness and humility? Will it lead to unthinkable progress? Are we all comfortable with this idea? If the Internet changes our notion of knowledge as not just "mine", but rather "mine" for others to build on and improve, it will truly lead to impacts beyond technology.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Some more Marshmallow Experiments

A few weeks back I wrote about my experience with the Marshmallow Design Challenge.

I ran this with my faculty and some of the classes I teach. I think it was a wonderful learning opportunity for all parties: me, the students, and the teachers. It is amazing to see what minds can come up with and how different people attack the challenge so uniquely. Often the creations were unsuccessful, but I enjoy the ingenuity and eagerness. So much is revealed about our creativity and imagination when we have the freedom to build and tinker.

Student examples:

The square base was surprisingly common

The marshmallow may not be too high, but a neat contraption. 

Teacher examples:

Our principal was just to the left, delegating to her teachers

Is using props cheating or is it thinking outside the box?

Not sure this is freestanding, but very interesting idea!

Session Five Activity

Teach & Learn = Ask & Answer
1) Go to and choose a site that you find interesting
2) Post (at least) one question and answer someone else’s question (at least one)
3) Reflect: What aspects of the experience contribute to a sense of a learning community? What aspects limit a sense of community?

So much of open learning appeals to me. I believe it to be Utopian in a way. Vibrant communities of learning whose members interact to spur innovation and creativity should be the way of the future. At the same time, free users exchanging free knowledge and expertise also seems too good to be true.  Advocates believe the barriers to open entry are low, and members share a rare congeniality. The open congeniality enables both the specialist and the apprentice to interact in an audience of equals. One of the most intriguing questions to open learning is what should it look like? Does open learning excel because of its unorganized and non-hierarchical structure? Or does it need to bend to the forces of conformity with the hope of spurring educational change?

One site suggested to explore open learning was "Stack Exchange". The site offers many detailed topics for discussion. Many of them are computer based, but topics range from Ubuntu, to math, to philosophy, to travel. The topics were no doubt interesting and I wanted to explore the intriguing categories. As I perused, a feeling of inadequacy hit me. The users asked specific questions and wanted specific answers. Was I qualified enough to ask or answer any questions? I really didn't feel like I was. After a lot of maybes and almosts, I logged to the Travel section and asked this question.

It was something I needed an answer to, and even if vague, I hoped to get some feedback. You may notice the question was tagged as closed. Apparently my query was too general for this site. The site is not meant to be a forum, but a specific question and answer site. My question did not fit the specifications. I felt dejected, put-off, and even somewhat humiliated. My general interest was squashed. This was not a site for conversation, but rather a place where experts exchanged Q and A. It didn't seem like open learning as I envisioned. For the sake of the assignment, I pushed ahead and reformatted my question to see if anything could be learned. I was nervous when I posted a new, more specific query. Was I going to be tagged again? Would people see me as an amateur? Am I meant for this? Here is my reformatted question.

I still was not confident. Since I was not confident, I did not even want to check the responses, let alone engage in conversation. I felt inadequate and inadequacy is not a proper emotion for learning. Was it just the site? The format? My own lack of confidence? Or does this speak to larger issues with trying to introduce "the system" to open learning? 

The next assignment was to answer a question. I found this even more worrisome than asking. What specialized knowledge do I posses? Who wants my opinion or knowledge on a subject? I went to my old standby, politics. After all, my formal degree is in political science and history. This means I am qualified, right? I cruised the site and found this interesting topic. 

Does Geneva Convention apply to countries which aren't signatories?

I offered a wordy, theoretical response. I tried to show all the philosophical guns in my holster. I felt like I needed to prove something. I needed to prove that I belonged and my answer was up to par.  Was it a congeal answer aimed at generating participation? Was I trying to foster a two-way exchange of information? I don't think so. I was trying to show I knew my stuff. I was trying to prove I was worth something. This is not how I envision open learning. Is this a systemic problem or more of a personal lack of comfort? 

I think a little of both. I claim openness, but it may take some practice. We, as learners, are indoctrinated into a system of needing to prove our intellectual chops. I think we design systems and institutions with this notion as framework. I believe we are naturally and intrinsically  predisposed to be open learners in an open learning environment. This is how humans have advanced to the point we are at. Unfortunately, schools and other educational institutions are not designed on this predisposition. They are designed on a system of rugged individualism. This individualism may be great for competition, but not open learning. This will be the challenge.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Week 5: Open Learning Session Notes

Informal Learning Through Google+ This Week Included
   -favorite tricks for amusing children in restaurants and other Venues of Extreme Waiting
   -Stage combat

Philipp Schmitt
-open communities of learners see themselves as activists
-will they have to be an alternative to education systems? or a can they transfuse?
-formal education does not allow for “debugging”
-you learn something, either you know it or you don’t and then you move on
-this is not at the heart of open community

Audrey Watters

-education technology writer
-got into blogging to be more transparent with work and thoughts
- building networks and relationships with people on web
- different way of learning than traditional
-most of online and educational tech is based on old paradigms-”moving lecture online”

Can we generalize this open source software process?
-the notion of “debugging” and looking at things closely
-“debugging” the learning process outside of code
-idea of github outside code (
-want to be able to look at everything, hack everything
-there should not be anything that is hidden, “a black box” to learner
-things that let us dive in and make us producers, not mere consumers

How can this idea change institutions?
-openness needs to permeate institutions

-with so many open projects, some can spring up and not really be open
-need to absolutely integrate what they mean
-are these classes actually open
-using open material? on open web?
-many still resemble old lecture halls where one person dispenses knowledge

How can classroom teachers apply?
-allow for more collaborative environment
-we are usually taught that even though we sit in a classroom with other learners, we are supposed to do all of our learning in isolation
-change this paradigm, to wear we help each other, support each other, and “debug” together

Does this work for everybody?
-possibly not, but the goal is to make all learning passion based
-we may not have legions of kids solving math worksheets

Mako Hill

-while struggled in traditional school, found home in online learning communities
-open softwares
-spends a lot of time reconciling work in traditional academic communities with his work in open and free communities that he is most proud of

How do open software communities work?
-create things and distribute with open license
-downloading and sharing with communities

Can we generalize this open source software process?
-idea that sharing is good and ethical imperative to do so when possible
-how and when we learn should be under control of learner

How can this idea change institutions?
-thinks we have made enormous progress
-need imagination for things to be better
-when teaching next year he wants to give everyone an “A” and say... if you don’t want to come back fine, if you do maybe we can teach each other something
-this may be too extreme but willing to meet in the middle to make progress

-most transformative educational experiences have been outside classroom environment
-MOOCs may not change this

How can classroom teachers apply?
-Document things outside the classroom, do not make the classroom so isolating
-wikis, wikipedia, scratch, etc.
-how can we solve problems together?

-translate wikipedia for example

Does this work for everybody?
-everybody can contribute in different ways
-for example people can teach older people to use wikipedia so they can share their knowledge
-can we build tools for other people?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What "Hack" mean to me?

**** The is cross posted at

“Hack the Classroom”

Words have meaning.  

Speakers use their own words to convey a certain message. In the perfect world of a speaker, his/her message will resonate and match that of the audience. Sometimes there is a disconnect, sometimes there is not. Speakers are not in total control of the words uttered.  Different audiences construct and attach labels to a speaker’s words.

So here we sit with “hack”.

“Hack” is loaded with myriad understanding and labels. Some of them good, many more bad. Yet we as speakers for the event, use “hack” purposely and hope to construct a new meaning. In our context, “hacking” is not a criminal activity engaged by anonymous degenerates or mischievous digital vagabonds. It is not the scary threat imagined by the defense industry, or a potential nuisance to online banking. It is not something we need to guard our email against.

So what is my definition of “hack”?

To “hack” is one’s  agency to recreate, rethink, tinker, offer ideas, and illicit change within fixed, usually closed systems. While many think of the closed systems of software, I think of the fixed systems of school. How can I jump into a system that is closed, that is walled off from change? How can I explore new boundaries? How can I work with others to propose radical shifts in stationary structures? How can I “debug” the institution of school with the purpose of making it better?

This is not an easy process. It is hard to get a foot in the door and a voice at the table. Established norms and ideas, regardless of how outdated and misinformed, are hard to change. Those in power do not want people below them to experiment and fix things without codified consent. So while I see nothing negative about “hacking” the classroom, the somewhat subversive connotations of the word fit and are part of my construct.

It is not easy to propose new ideas within closed systems. It is not easy to suggest massive rethinks. It is not comforting to realize we have been doing it wrong. Courage and hope are needed to think for and implement new solutions. “Hacking” is this process. Putting yourself out there to create some disruption for greater change and good. Change is not always what people want, but it may be what they need. “Hackers” are willing to risk some displeasure to empower students, teachers, and learners.

Tim contributes his social media expertise for Hack the Classroom. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Monreal. Also follow HTC on Twitter @hackclassroom

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Creative Learning Professional Development

I shared my learning with colleagues at school. There was a lot of quiet in the room at the end. I do not know if this was a good thing or a bad one. Feel free to use if you would like.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Week 5 Reading List and Reflections

The readings were highly philosophical this week. There was much to get through and you would think this would make for one intense, lengthy post. That was the plan. Then I kept thinking. I looked over my notes and tweeted the question below. I think it sums up so much of the reading and provides a nice framework if you chose to read any of them yourself.

... conflict?

If we believe that people are naturally inclined to learn and create, why do we have authoritarian structures that own the gears of knowledge?

Do we trust people as learners?

What does our system of bribing and hierarchy say about our view on human intrinsic nature and motivation?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Session 4 Notes

Definitely some strong opinions from revolutionary figures this week. Please watch as my notes just scratch the surface.

Brian Silverman

What is a powerful idea?
-powerful ideas=empowering ideas
-big ideas and powerful ideas can be different
-rat trap----release small amount of force to unleash large amount of force=triggers

How can we engage others?
-tinkering as pathway to engagement holds great promise

Role of Programming
-little bit of programming goes a long way
-programming organizes thinking

Alan Kay

What is a powerful idea?
-originates from Seymour Papert
-first powerful idea is that there are powerful ideas
-powerful ideas cross thresholds in the sense that when you reach fluency it changes the way you think 
-science a powerful idea because it is a heuristic based approach to fix problems with our brains
-most powerful ideas can be double-edged swords

How can we engage others?
-allow tinkering, but only as a jumping off point (we are not the only species that tinkers)
-tinkering can lead to fluency (be in club without paying the dues)
-necessary, but far from sufficient 
-ultimately low level of fluency, but not enough
-we need adults and experts proficient to lead, we need a knowledgeable culture

Role of Programming
-blatantly clear that many who learn programming do not bounce to more enlightened paths
-this is in direct opposition to Papert's hopes

Ties to Learning
-Need a sustained culture to give context

Mitch Resnick
-Powerful ideas not just science and math
-less is more in architecture 

          -People have misconceptions that are not powerful. With the right tools we can turn those
           misconceptions into powerful ideas.
                      - need to build culture to support

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Turtle Art

Turtle Art combines simple "block" programming and art for creative construction. I have to admit, this stuff does not come easy to me. Even though it does not come natural, I find it very engaging and intrinsically fulfilling. For this piece, I modified some existing "code" and blended it with my basic "code". The mix produced my unique creation. I call it "The Road Less Traveled". 

Turtle Art offers transformative possibilities for constructionism in art, math, and interdisciplinary work. In order to put together a work, one must play around with variables, coordinates, numbers, geometric figures, and programming. This is real conceptual math for big idea thinkers. 

For more on Turtle check out these links

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Powerful Ideas

Papert described powerful ideas as general (applicable across domains), intelligible (easy to grasp), and personal (rooted in experience). Share an example of a powerful idea from your own experience. What people, materials, or environments supported your learning experience? How might you help others understand and appreciate this powerful idea?

I have three powerful ideas that I will share. I will not elaborate on them, but offer them as things for you to wrestle with and shape your own opinion on.

1) Extrinsic rewards, such as grades, usually produce the exact opposite results in the long run. In short, extrinsic rewards often decrease outcomes.

2) In terms of school, student happiness has the biggest effect on student achievement and learning. Schools need to deal with student psychology first and foremost if they are going to raise efficacy. 

3) Humans need more leisure time... we "work" too much.


Some might consider this project of mine a big idea (one that needs to be finished)

Week 4 Reading Reflections: Why the Lack of Ideas?

"Last fall I worked almost daily with a small group of deeply troubled teenagers. One day I brought a rattrap into our meeting place. Several boys, impressed by this ferocious-looking version of the familiar mousetrap, gathered around and began to make macho remarks: “you can break someone’s fingers with that” and “that’s nothing, I’ve set bear traps.” After this kind of talk had died down, a quiet member of the group,whom I will call Michael, piped up with: “Awesome.That’s a wonderful idea!” It took
me a few minutes to be sure that he meant what I hoped he did: he was saying that the mouse trap is based on a wonderfully clever idea; he found it awesome that anyone could have invented it.
 As I got to know Michael better I came to understand that seeing an idea where others saw an instrument of violence was characteristic of his mind. Ideas are what count for him...
You might think that he is “the intellectual” of the group.
 You would be led to a very different impression by his dismal school record. From the beginning he has been a regular habitue´ of “special education” classrooms. As seen through school tests he appears as an incompetent person: virtually illiterate, devoid of mathematical knowledge—in brief “a failure.” Working with Michael has increased for me the troubling awareness that failure in school can be the expression of valuable intellectual and personal qualities. Many do badly in school because their style simply does not fit schools. Many react badly to school because its emphasis on memorizing facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly." (Papert, 2000) 

In this simple passage, Steven Papert illustrates an alarming problem with the American education system. Those that succeed are good at "doing school".  Exemplary students memorize facts, please teachers, and care more for grades than learning. They are performers. Teacher and student could care less about the learning process, as long as both are achieving; achievement as measured by standardized test. The tests cannot measure conceptual thinking or one's engagement in powerful, big ideas. The system renders innovative thought impossible.

So what happens to students like Michael? Students that see the big picture? Students who engage in complex thought? Students who care about process? Students who are intrinsically motivated by life's marvels? Students who come to learning with a sense of wonder? Students who want to take time to figure things out? Students who love to thinker and discover? Students who abhor being told useless trivia by authoritarian figures? Students who love learning, but whose love is systemically squashed?

Alan Kay picks up on this problem in remarks titled, Powerful Ideas Need Love Too! He starts by explaining how science majors often fail in explaining large theories. Kay is not talking about complex, erudite theories. Science majors fail to explain how seasons come to be, or strike out when discussing the phases of the moon. How does this happen?

They can memorize facts, but not connect the dots. This is a function of the school institutions themselves. People lack the skills to think about facts and turn them into a large, integrated system of thought. In many ways, they never learn how to think. Kay scoffs at the notion that this thinking is impossible or difficult to teach. He says it is quite hard to shoot hoops or hit a baseball, but kids will fail at great length to succeed in these tasks.

In order for ideas to be salient and valued, they need to be supported by surrounding culture. This is why musicians have children talented in music, and scientists are much more likely to produce little scientists. In those cultures, facts have a relevant home and place. The culture allows for individuals to take time, see models, tinker, and ultimately connect the dots. If the culture supports learning in this way, powerful ideas can take shape. School needs to be a place where such thinking about learning is fostered. School need to be a driver of such thinking about ideas. They need to serve as warehouses of thought. Are they?

How do we flip schools? How can we encourage those students who think in big terms? How can we encourage all students to connect the dots? How can we engage students in real learning? How can we give them a sense of wonder again?

In Some Reflections on Designing Construction Kits for Kids, Mitch Resnick and Brian Silverman offer some ideas. "Learning by designing" is different than "hands-on" or "learning by doing". "Learning by designing" is guided by big, innovative ideas. Failure is seen as a part of the creative leaning process. The tension of addressing, solving, and tinkering with big ideas drives learning and creativity. This is truly different.  "Learning by designing" sets up a culture that supports big connections.

"In designing construction kits, one of our primary goals is to help kids explore and understand powerful ideas. We have found that trying to teach powerful ideas directly is not very effective. Rather, our strategy is to provide opportunities for kids to encounter and use powerful ideas as a natural part of design experiences... 
When we were testing an early version of our LEGO/Logo technology, we worked with a fourth-grade class in which the students wanted to build an amusement park.."

Think about being in that school. What is more engaging, reading about the energy, force, and matter of roller coasters? Or designing your own prototypes?  What school would you want your brother, sister, son or daughter in? Which school allows students to play with knowledge and facts? Which school allows for learners to connect the dots between small facts and large theory?

What schools are we now constructing?

Week 4 Reading

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Finding a Way

It is my personal mission to find ways for students to be creative. I have realized that my past notions of creativity are not adequate. In the past, I tried very hard to set up a culture of creativity in my classroom. To some extent I was successful, but I can do so much more. I am expanding my understanding of creativity. Beside a culture of creativity, you need to be unafraid to let students actually construct creatively. That calls for a ton of unease, even for a teacher like me who shies away from structure and traditional norms. More than telling students that they can be creative, it is necessary to give the tools needed for creativity. Maker's spaces, coding, and complete freedom are building blocks for creative learning. 

I thought I could achieve creativity in the classroom through Project Based Learning (PBL). It is true that PBL allows for radical levels of creativity compared to standard pedagogy, but more can be done. How flexible are your projects? Can students really own the end product? Is the end goal a means of teaching curriculum or allowing for creativity? Can both be reconciled? Do projects really engage or do students see the scenarios as artificial contraptions used to teach outdated curriculum? A lot to think about.

Recently, I had a PBL for seventh grade science where students created a marketing campaign for a geological time period. It wasn't the best design and some of the students were not engaged. Some thought it was an inventive way to "do" school, but realized it was little more than a redressing of typical content. I reserved the school laptops as a way of engaging students, but this was not enough. I basically used new technology for old teaching methods.

There was a particular student doing little to no work. Whenever my back was turned, I heard the strums of a guitar. He spent most of his time messing around with and tinkering with Google Guitar. He was totally engaged in that pursuit and he was also darn good. I enjoyed how he was learning this, but decided he couldn't do it in class. He was going against group and teacher orders, and playing around. Screw the fact I was squashing real creative learning.

The familiar pattern of "deviance" continued and I knew something had to change. Instead of getting upset, I asked him what he would like to do with this project. I acknowledged my failings and told him I wanted to work with him so that he was doing work in any way he desired. I was planning to push him toward Scratch. After a few minutes, he asked if he could write a song. Brilliant! I suggested that he make a jingle for his group. That way he could spend most of his time engaged on the guitar and also creatively construct something brand new and unique. I hoped his jingle would include information about his geological time period, but decided to leave that more as friendly suggestion I would remind him of. He spent the next two days experimenting, playing, and learning. Ultimately, he created a song that he is going to unveil tomorrow. I also saw him glance at the book at few times, so I am hoping both of us will walk away with a feeling of success.

We just need to find a way for our students to be truly creative. It may be uncomfortable, but we have to find that way.

Below is an example of another person "fooling around" with Google guitar.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Creatively Building a Dam

I came up with this creative learning activity for 5th grade science. Thanks to the MIT MOOC on creative learning my whole notion of the concept has been revolutionized. It is my job to give students an arena to construct, tinker, play, and try new things. I have failed at this in my career. I am excited about the future and this was one step.

The project was simple in a way, but allowed for students to build something totally unique. I gave them a container with soil and asked them to construct a dam out of tape, Popsicle sticks, and rocks. They had to make the dam functional in the sense they could control water flow if necessary. With those basic guidelines, I let them be. It was amazing to see what students came up with and the paths used to get there. I loved the divergent thinking, which was a produce of my lack of structure and rules. 

The kids loved it; some added variables like more dirt, others tested relentlessly, and some groups sketched more than build. I couldn't kick them out of class and some begged to come to my room during breaks. They  wanted to keep building and hence, keep learning. It is a totally different way of doing school and I love it.