What the Gingerbread Ninja Heard

Last week we had the opportunity to work with the kindergarteners at Fishers Landing. While I am not one of those gifted with the native talents of a primary teacher, I have spent enough time with its inhabitants to be comfortable with the habits and fluent with most aspect of their communication.

Kinders are a highly intelligent group; they are strikingly honest, deeply empathetic, and shockingly self-focused. In fact, it is not uncommon to witness all of these behaviors within moments of each other and sometimes simultaneously.

We were working with the students to develop their skills and understanding of story form. To do that we were recording unique variations of The Gingerbread Man story, as told to us by the students, with sound effects of student-chosen characters added in editing. The concept is simple enough. The classes had already read a variety of gingerbread stories and the kids had identified the common elements, such as the gingerbread character meeting three different characters before meeting its untimely end. From there, it doesn’t take much work to convince a five-year-old to create their own story; and for a student of the digital age adding sound effects seems like something that has always been a part of good stories.

All that was left was for them to write their script, or create a storyboard if they liked that idea better. It was nothing complex, or even wholly complete in most cases, just something on paper that kept them on track during the telling, something that showed the order of events.

To watch this writers workshop was to bear witness to 21st-century alchemy. The subtle yet sloppy mixing of graphite, grim and… something strangely sticky yielded pure gold on several levels.

 

(Link to just a couple of student audiobooks)

Academically, the students offered strong evidence of understanding story sequence, rhyming, the power of iterations and patterns. They talked about and demonstrated the use of tone, voice, and inflection at levels they won’t be asked to reproduce for another six years.

Socially, the students were excited, engaged, and eager to share. Jimmy, whose face bore evidence of at least one sticky substance, had a four-page story with only a couple letters but plenty of heavily lined images that did not do justice to the epic adventure of a gingerbread ninja that fought off howling wolves, growling bears, and a hissing snake only to be swallowed by an alligator.

Eva’s story didn’t have the illustrative quality or intensity of Jimmy’s, but it was eight pages long and Eva wrote and then read every word, and became quite critical of using the “right cat sound.” Still unsatisfied with my efforts after four attempts, she took pity on me.

“I don’t think you can do it so how ‘bout I just make the sound and say them where I want them.”

We recorded countless riffs and covers of the classic lines “run, run as fast as you can…” some in the sugary sweet voice of a cookie and other laid out like old school rap. The students also felt free to use an animal from well beyond the barnyard standards. The resident realist wanted the sound of joggers chasing a cookie, only to be followed by the next storyteller who needed the sounds of a unicorn, mermaids, and a shooting star.

Make no mistake, the product quality was low, the background volume high, and the running time was inconsistent, ranging from 11 seconds to 3 and a half minutes. It took us most of the first class to adjust and configure the lesson into something that was going to work. But it did work.  The audio stories added authentic and real academic discussions between kindergarten students.

It takes a little prep but no more than most new lessons.

Soundbible.com has a huge collection of royalty free sounds you can download.

Mp3converter.net lets you copy/paste any youtube video into its page and converts it into a ready-to-use mp3 file because, unfortunately, soundbible doesn’t have a unicorn or mermaid sound. Youtube does. A unicorn sounds like a running horse with magical twinkling in the background, in case you were curious.

Audacity is a free sound editing software already on most teachers’ devices. It’s not super user-friendly but easy enough if you stick to the cut and paste to start with.

The Origin of T.I.D.E.

Phase 1: A Small Epiphany:

It doesn’t take much of a look into the ideas of Design Thinking, Project Based Learning (PBL) and Cultivating Innovation to see their value in a 21st-century classroom. But finding places where they fit into the curricula, the classroom and the schedule takes a bit more imagination.d55733bf215489c554002c271a08db44--moro-be-ready

In Education, we have never been shy about figuring things out as we jump into them (building the plane as we fly). No reason not to use that approach with makerspaces and PBL. Unfortunately for most of the elementary schools in our district conversations around these topics ran aground when the topic of space came on deck. It was therefore hard to move the idea of a makerspace forward without a viable space option.

On the other hand, dropping the idea of cultivating creativity and a problem based challenge because we lacked a creative solution to a real world problem seemed the wrong way to go.

Now, an epiphany, however small, is still a good starting point. So when the idea of a trailer filled with tools and supplies was suggested, the collective ‘hmmm’, was a place to begin. It turns out one trick for going from small educational epiphany to reality is getting the right people to go hmmm.  It also turns out that getting the right people to listen is an odd combination of luck, chutzpah, and repetition. In this case, we hit that trifecta back in June of 2016.

Here our origin story has more growth spurts, lulls, awkward steps and moment of brilliance than any middle schooler.  Limited only by what we could dream up we moved from trailer to retired school bus, with a custom paint job, and started to imagine what the gang from Overhaulin’ or Pimp my Ride would do in this challenge.8b28c4415a67a9dbf510df93cc519900

Several times in that process we lost vision of our purpose and had to step back. (Sadly, as cool as an observation deck on top of the bus sounded, we couldn’t make a direct correlation between that and developing curriculum based problem solving skills so it had to go.) This brainstorming, imagining, even spit balling, of ideas allowed us to expand the concept as much as it forced us to define achievable goals. In the end, the goal boiled down to this:

Our mobile makerspace would provide classroom teachers with the people, plans, and parts needed to add project based learning to the curriculum they were already engaging with. Some of these would be projects that teachers couldn’t realistically do without “the bus.” Others would be ones they could but hadn’t thought of. We would be engineering ways to bring PBL into curriculum and classrooms.

The more jaded among us will simple smile knowingly as they read that the project lost funding before it even began, thus joining countless other good ideas never brought to fruition. Those more tenuous among us will smile and nod to read that sometimes the declarative statement “It’s not in the budget,” has a silent yet at the end that changes its meaning. In a system built with safety in mind rather than exploring, asking to tinker around with a custom fab school bus is not going to make the top of the funding, priority list without plenty of patience and pushing.   When our yet finally worked and money was found we were not exactly ready, but we jumped into action, mostly…

(to be continued)

Is Makerspace just a Fad or Buzzword?

 

downloadWhen the term makerspace first popped into the lexicon I was less than impressed. The idea of rebranding the arts and craft studio into a place where students could do arts and crafts, and make stuff, seemed like calling a large coffee a Venti coffee. Just a rose by another name.  Then variations on the idea- makers, maker manifestos, and maker fairs sprung up.  This buzzword was gathering a following. Then the precocious little term starting hanging with the in crowd.  Combining in books and article with heavy hitters like mindset, Design thinking, and Project Based Learning. even those awesome twins STEM and STEAM where hanging out in makerspaces.

Soon places like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Stanford had makerspaces, and maker clubs and maker conferences.  At that point, I had considered the possibility that makerspace had either changed into something more than just a hippy-dippy art studio or however unlikely that I may have jumped to a conclusion rather than actually looking into a new idea. So with a more open mind and a venti large cup of coffee, I began to explore what a makerspace was and what its movement wanted to do in education.

To be honest, a makerspace can be a studio for all kinds of crafting, so my first impression was not completely wrong.  But thinking of a makerspace as a studio, in the same way, my parents called the spare bedroom an art studio is akin to thinking of my cell phone like the kitchen phone they shared.makerspace-feature-image

In its truest form, a makerspace is where all those other terms go from theory to application; a growth mindset is built from opportunities to try, explore, and tinker without fear. Design thinking is just a formula for engineering solutions by taking apart the issue and prototyping possible solutions, and PBL works best if students have a place and resources to make it happen. Within those contexts, the term is more than an extra room.

The whole maker movement is also more complex than just the re-designation of classroom space. The STEM people have shown that with plenty of research; a study from The Carnegie Corporation’s Institute for the Advanced Study Commission on Math and Science Education, concluded that we need to move from the current system of “telling” kids about STEM topics to helping them develop the inquiry and problem-solving skills in more “hands on” and “relevant” ways.

 

In a more concert sense, the maker movement confronts what the internet has already taught us about today’s students. Back in 2004, the Pew Institute did a study that found by age 12, over 71% students had “contributed to the internet.” in the form of blog posts, videos, music files and graphics. (that was before either Twitter or Instagram.) Not everyone wants to drop an original track on Soundcloud or post a video on YouTube. It is however, human nature to build, create, or tinker, we are internally wired to make.  It is both an outlet of individuality and a fostering agent for curiosity, those same qualities the current school system stymies.

Makerspaces are not a panacea for an educational system that needs to be re-engineered. They come with unanswered questions about formative and summative assessments, curricula connections, funding, and access.

Makerspaces are a step forward on a path that puts less distance between the shop class and chemistry lab. Makers, by both design and definition, are resilient to failure, empowered to change, driven to explore and excited to learn.

There is a chance that the term makerspace is a buzzword that will fade and be replaced by a chicer phase.  But there is little doubt that this is a good idea for education.