Saturday, June 29, 2013

Session 9 Activity #2 Toys From Trash

 Option 1: Explore physical+digital tinkering with MaKey MaKey (if you have one).
 Option 2: Try out some of the examples from Arvind Gupta (such as spinning toys). 
 Option 3: Try out some of the activities from the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium.

A few days ago I wrote about option 1. You can find it here

As the short video shows, Mr. Gupta believes that simple toys can teach us a lot about the natural world. In the process of building and creating simple projects and trinkets, people interact and play with all types of phenomena. Scroll through his website, it is uncanny what he does with so little. It is a testament to the ingenuity of the human mind and our inherent proclivity for imaginative activity.

After watching the talk, I thought this would be something I could share with my students. I gave them one class period to scan through the projects with team members. On the first day they could simply explore and be excited. At the end of the day, they would have to make a decision as to what they would try to build the following day. They would communicate with their team to make sure they brought the necessary supplies. It was interesting to see teams go back and forth. It was fascinating to see the interplay between members who thought they could do anything and the ones who were afraid to fail or do things that looked complex or complicated. I also witnessed a lot of people get started right away. Even if they did not have all the supplies, they looked around the classroom for substitutes or were willing to improvise. I believe this was due to high levels of autonomy and intrinsic motivation. Also, when students saw the word "toy" in the talk they attacked the problem differently. Although some were building complex machines, they were playing and tinkering. They were relaxed.

The following day I saw much of the same. I saw high levels of success, innovation, and tinkering. Even when groups finished one project, they were unafraid to add to their toy or try something new. A few groups forgot supplies, but they were surprisingly content with finding a new toy or looking for alternative supplies. A few members got frustrated by the lack of success. I tried to stay on the sidelines and let them work through it. I wanted them to deal with the frustration as a natural part of the learning. All the groups were able to overcome the obstacles and either finish a toy or start something new. This was very telling to me. As long as students are motivated and see value in the activity they are very willing to right the ship. I believe so much was learned in this activity, much of it went beyond content.  I played more the observer than anything else. The students were self-regulated and owned it themselves. This is the most effective and highest level of learning. In the pictures below, you can see some of our creations. The sprinkers and flexagons proved to be most popular.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Session 9 Activity #1 Makey Makey

Activity: Option 1: Explore physical+digital tinkering with MaKey MaKey (if you have one). Option 2: Try out some of the examples from Arvind Gupta (such as spinning toys). Option 3: Try out some of the activities from the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium.

Please, please, please watch this video...

I watched this video one time and it changed everything. It is hard to explain the intellectual shift that instantaneously occurred as a result of Mr. Silver's talk. If I had to sum it up in a few words it might be something like:

Anything is possible
Crazy is not crazy
We can always think in new ways
We can manipulate our surroundings in truly awesome ways
Play is so innocently cool
Kids (and adults) should have this

I could go on and on.

The point being, an innovative idea lit a fire in my mind. How could I get my hands on a Makey Makey and explore? How could I tinker with this? How could I show my students? Without thinking twice, I bought a Makey Makey kit and crossed my fingers it would arrive before the end of school.

I received my kit with about a month of school left. If I was excited about this thing, the students' excitement blew me out of the water. It was uncanny to see students come in during recess, lunch, and after school hoping for just a few seconds with the kit. They hung out in-between classes, asked to incorporate it into projects, and some even ordered their own.

For the most part, I just let them play and tinker with it. I did this for many reasons. One, I am a novice myself and this was the only way I could learn. Two, I didn't want to turn this awesome bit of intrinsic motivation and joy into another dreary drudgery of school.  This was especially the case as many of the most interested students were those who do not conform to the traditional structure of school.

The last week of school, some fifth graders and I combined our work with integers, the Makey Makey, and Scratch. If there is a better way to really understand the concept of addition/subtraction of positive and negative integers than programming characters to move forward and back, please let me know. When added to a Makey Makey, it is possible to step on "pads" and have the characters move forward and back. Students light up and tell all their friends what they just finished in class. I think this is real learning. This is both creative and constructive. This is exploratory. This is challenging. This is fun.