Thursday, January 2, 2014

Marble Madness, Cont'd

A couple months ago, I wrote some notes about a Marble Madness project I completed with my students. I was overjoyed and humbled to receive a comment from the team at Tinkering Studio. The Tinkering Studio project pages provided the motivation for the projects and was kind enough to leave some authentic feedback. It proves to me the folks at the Tinkering Studio really care about changing learning opportunities for children. So much so they helped a random teacher in Los Angeles. The comment is below:
So nice to see your write-up about trying marble machines with your students. I especially enjoyed hearing that "These concepts.....sprang naturally from the kids tinkering." That's what it's all about! I also really appreciate that you were able to give it ample time. I know that isn't always easy to do in a school setting, but it helps the kids really internalize what they're doing and the understanding that they develop will be much more durable. So, Bravo! 
I'd like to offer two bits of advice for next time: (1) Try double up the pegboard. We sandwich a small 2x2 in between. It does make the boards heavier and harder to store, but they are more rigid and having two sets of holes helps keep dowels from falling out or coming loose. (We'd be happy to Skype and do a Q&A about construction). (2) Don't get really hung up on the slowing down part. While it's true that we like to use it as a prompt to get people started, their own ideas that come out based on things they're building are often much more interesting and a personal challenge ultimately is more meaningful. We just find it helps people get started, because a completely blank piece of pegboard can be pretty intimidating initially. If it's okay with you, I'd like to blog about your post on the Tinkering Studio site. 
Best of luck when you try it again -- I'd love to hear your reflections then too.
-Karen Wilkinson (from the Tinkering Studio)"

The comment caused further reflection on my end. This helped improve my learning as well. My response is below:
Karen, 
WOW! Thank you for taking the time to write and comment. I am usually really good about getting back and commenting, but I have been traveling and enjoying the holiday. 
My original goal was to put the wood behind the pegboard, then I hoped students would do it themselves. This is one key thing I learned. Students are very excited in the building, but resources are key. Not necessarily high budget resources, but "stuff" that is practical, pliable (in the imaginative sense), and ubiquitous. Some students will bring things in from outside school, but most won't. If you want students that are always tinkering, building, and designing you have to give them the tools to do so. As I do this next year, I will really think about organizing and providing maker resources for them. 
I also really appreciate your thoughts on time. Teachers are under so much pressure to force more and more content on students. Maybe it is a reflection of education system, or even the times we live in, that we want everything right away. We still have an education system that wants students to regurgitate answers right away, we want "results" right away, we want our students to "perform" right away. We rarely feel comfortable allowing our students to simply make, play with ideas, and build authentic understanding. It is reassuring to have other people support my thinking in giving students a different perspective on learning. 
More than anything, I found that students cared about their creations, they felt personally accomplished. A number of students said the have never been more frustrated, yet drawn to figure something out. One student even said science was once "stupid" and is now her favorite class. One simple project changed many learners perceptions of themselves. It also generated excitement throughout the school. Younger students flocked to my room at recess to test marbles and check the progress of the machines. They gladly traded recess to play with the machines. This was very neat. I love recess, but also love having to kick kids out of class!
Please use my blog in anyway you see fit. I am going to use it for another post myself. I would also love to keep in contact, especially if your team could skype in at the beginning of next year to pose the challenge and check in throughout. If you would like to personally email me, don't hesitate. 
Happy New Year,Tim

Thank you Karen from the Tinkering Studio for pushing me as an educator and making me better!

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