Maker


I’m behind in my self-paced program — NC Teacher Action Research. The question for the of Sept 16th (see how far behind I am???) was:

If you could change/improve anything in your classroom, what would it be? Take a few minutes to reflect on your feelings about your own teaching.  Make a list of things that “nag” at you as you plan and teach.

  1. more reading; less complaining
  2. figuring out how to get kids to want to engage in the language arts (I love the term for this: agency)
  3. making language arts tie into other content areas
  4. finally figuring out how to balance writing and literature instruction!!
  5. making language arts more active — creative — visible (this is probably my makerspace)
  6. I’m always interested in the technology aspect
  7. I may be somewhat interested in teaching argument — but not enough to actually study it
  8. can I go gradeless? Nope!
  9. more inquiry in English!!
  10. showing student growth without teaching to the EOC

List the areas in your practice that you would like to change or improve

  1. I’m really interested in how to create a more active learning classroom. If the kids are more interested in their phones than what we are doing in class, then I’m doing something wrong.
  2. I stink at giving feedback, even though there is so much research showing its benefits — I think this might be a class management issue.

Question

How can I create an active and agentative learning environment through the use of a makerspace while keeping students on task?

Reflection Questions

Self-reflection (theories): So, I’m definitely of the constructivist argument of education. I think we learn through interactions with each other and in conversations with peers.

Descriptive (describe problem): I don’t think my problem — engagement and agency — is new for the students I teach; however, I see that my students don’t leave their area, for the most part. They make their lives in an area that isn’t really growing in population, yet the ways they learn best –hands on–isn’t privileged in a “college and career ready” atmosphere.  During my time in education, I’ve become better at giving students more say in what we do in class and trying to get them more active, both mentally and physically. And, while I think I have been somewhat successful, I don’t see/hear kids talking about being in flow — where they are totally immersed in an activity/lesson/ process. Plus, I don’t just want a student to be compliant — to play at school. I want to see some passion in in their desire to go further in their learning, which is a difficult concept in a Language Arts class where we read the same texts that their parents (grandparents??) read!

Exploratory (why): This may be where my question breaks down. The “why” of makerspaces interests me — I see the intersections of literacy, writing, and making, but it may not be seen in similar ways by my administration who only cares about test scores. So far, I’ve been lucky in the testing arena — I’ve found myself in the “green” with regards to EVAAS scores, although it’s on the lower end of the standard deviation — and there has been minimal growth in my students’ scores. I need to find ways to gather data to show/prove that making and active lessons engages my students, but I also have to show growth.

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“Let’s do something fuuuuuuuuunnn this year,” my colleague Jana whined.

We’re in my classroom, trying to do the beginning-of-year planning that is required by all departments. Both Jana and I feel we’re in some sort of weird holding pattern with our classes. Last year, we saw our freshmen and sophomore students’ faces blurred with boredom and apathy. Neither of us wanted that again, especially in light of the political upheavals and teacher bashing that has become commonplace.

The more we talked and brainstormed, the more I thought about this past Teacher Research Week at UNCC. During the week, we made with words, technology, and science. It felt that Jana and I had happened upon a STEM/maker train of thought that refreshed our outlook on teaching literature and writing.

Our first speed-bump was logistical:  “Is this appropriate instruction? What will other teachers and administrators say when our classes are loud and messy? How much money will it cost to ‘make’?” Thankfully, though, my administrators allow teachers to be independent thinkers and aren’t married to a pacing guide — we are extremely lucky in that regard.

Next, we began brainstorming all the different ways we could create “experiences” with our literature (This term comes from Dave Burgess’ book, Teach Like a Pirate). Our plans for sophomores include: experiencing the story “How Much Land Does a Man Need” by walking the cross country track and burying dead “bodies” (cutouts) at the end; having students dress up for book talks; writing marathons around the school campus and on field trips, and creating digital personas through the Voki website. My class today will make 6-word memoirs of Holocaust survivor stories, and then represent them with pictures.

Our first foray into making, though, came two weeks ago with freshmen and the story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” We wanted the classes to get the feel for the main character’s (Rainsford) stress as he hides in the woods, trying to trap and outwit his antagonist. They had one hour to use recyclable materials they had brought from home, and whatever outside material they could find, to create a trap that would stop an aggressor. Jana and I developed a rubric, not for a grade, but as a guide for their thinking. Each group had to reflect on the STEAM elements, as well as respond individually as to how their group worked together, design flaws and challenges, and whether they thought their trap worked as planned.

The day was nothing short of amazing! In the individual and whole group reflections in my class, I heard things like, “It showed us the stress Rainsford was in”;  “I don’t know if I would be able to think on my feet like he had to”; “Our trap didn’t work because our string was too thin. We should have added a small tree or bush limb”; “We had to listen to everybody’s idea and use pieces of each one”; “We should do this again because we can live the story.”

I am excited about this school year! Just like my students, I needed another person to bounce ideas off of to get a maker movement started, at least in my department. Jana is very good at imagining these kinds of ideas, and I’m very good at getting the curriculum targeted. It takes both levels of thinking to Make Space for Making, and I look forward to continuing these experiences.

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