Tuesday, March 28, 2017

You are What You Do: Maker Empowerment of Voice

SXSWedu is usually a techy, STEAMy conference.  This year, by the powers of ten, we zoomed back away from TPACK, from Shulman’s what and how, to look at the larger system of learning, and to grapple with the framing why’s - what I have inarticulately described before as the narrative of learning, Pink’s “purpose”.  One presentation, which led to a podcast which led to a school visit, was by the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.  In their journey from becoming a STEAM school, they have gravitated toward a Maker driven philosophy.  Here I’ll unpack conversations, observations, and notes from extended readings to think through the Maker shift, specifically how student voice is awakened by empowerment, sensitivity, and community.


You are What You Do

“... if as a sixth grader you learn how to use power tools, you are going to remember that for the rest of your academic career…”
Anah Wiersema, Vice Principal Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders

Dewey wrote about knowledge as a verb, an action upon one’s environment.  When that action is compounded with tool, the proprioceptive feedback creates a larger self body image, like a superpower.  The traditional identity of student - basically a learn-er, study-er, test-taker, teacher-pleaser transforms into maker, programmer, knit bomber, or turntablist.  This change in intrapersonal identify extends at a grander scale as one’s interpersonal relationship with a passive, consumer oriented world breaks, overturning the illusion that choice is predetermined.  And not to sound too Matrixy, but I think where Anah’s comment logically leads is to creating Makers that view the world as malleable, not just through products and goods, but in social-political-economic systems.

Who gets access to this kind of learning environment, to construct this identity?  This ethical problem of equity of access, and identity construction, is part of the Ann Richards School’s mission looking at the gender, socio-economic, racial challenges of balancing the access to STEM careers.

To put this idea of identify empowerment into perspective, at the Ann Richards School...

“...over 60% of the school’s population are the first in their families to attend college. In the school’s first two years of graduates, 100% have enrolled in college, and are funded by over $8 million in scholarships.” 
Eric Heineman, College Advisor, Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders

If You Build It...

...make sure there is space for students to find problems.  Academic Dean, Kris Waugh, speaks of wanting to create problem finders.  Our traditional concept of school means age groups divided into classes where teachers dictate or facilitate activities.  Ewan McIntosh of NoTosh explains how teachers have always engaged in the messiness of learning, the divergent thinking through the infinite paths a learning trajectory can take.  The teacher has immersed and defined the problem, and students solve it, deprived of the opportunity to develop sensitivities to finding problems on their own, and in the process make the critical aesthetic, affective, ethical connections to their own learning trajectories.  Going back to my inarticulate idea of narrative framing, James Ohler does a better job saying,

"...story is a highly efficient information container. It is far more than that. In an age of information overload we have reached into antiquity and pulled up the story to help us integrate all that information that is coming at us. We have competing kinds of info containers, lists which we don't tend to remember, and story which is integrated and we tend to remember it. We need to bring story into education as a means of learning, and also as a means of personal branding. Students need to learn how to tell their own story at an early age, and understand that they can be in control of their own story. If they are not, other people may control it..."   
Jason Ohler

In a Maker scenario, Papert explains this means learning problems solved through the process of physically constructing what began as an idea in the mind.  The narrative begins with finding and defining that idea, and engaging in an iterative process that may involve space for tinkering.

Art class is often the closest lab-like learning atmosphere akin to heavier maker spaces, and perhaps is one of the best Maker portals schools have. Art slides on a continuum between craft and conceptual problem solving.  Years ago I observed weekly extended Art blocks for second graders by Betty Salive who had applied Reggio Emilia approaches where graphic representation is one of the 100 Languages of Children.  At first glance her sessions were a classroom management nightmare, but as I started paying attention to where there was structure in the class - mini-lessons bridging participatory theater with color choice, campfire gatherings to critique work, joke time for honing oral presentation, and most importantly the products filing into their portfolios - I understood the chaotic intent.  

With her permission I started interviewing students outside the class, recording their reflections on a selected piece of work, then dictated their ideas printed in large fonts to display alongside their pieces for museum exhibition.  They were delving into their most critical problems, and then solving the problem through graphic construction. Their artistic voices were activated through ability, will, and sensitivities to multiple paths across mediums, but also through their access to each other's feedback and thoughts, the adjacent possible in a making lab, and the audience that would view their work.

This is how I see the Maker challenge, creating space within the academic school experience where students grapple, finding and defining the problems around learning, and engage in an iterative process toward their product or solution. For those familiar with writer's workshop labs, this is similar to how Lucy Calkins (research oriented Lessons From a Child, not NCLB adapted Units of Study) moved away from teacher generated writing prompts to students creating their own prompts.  This requires schools to step back from the obsessive pursuit of measuring mono-psychometrics to the idea that individual skills will be honed in the development of tendencies and dispositions, and to a messier learning design with multiple learning objectives at play simultaneously.

Zooming Out (or Nuclear Annihilation and ZPD)

“...Projects transcend the self.”  
Kris Waugh, It’s Not About What You Make, SXSWedu 2017

It took the threat of nuclear annihilation for Paul Baran to develop a decentralized data transfer system, hot-potato routing, where information passes through distributed nodes.  We learn through our tools, and it seems no accident that through our digital interconnectivity and information transfer through packets that we zoom back from individual minds connecting new information to prior knowledge and extend the frame to look at learning as a network, toward a learning design accounting for dispersed teaching and learning.  The real technology at work is as ancient as hunter and gatherer group hunts where the individual against the Mastadon was not an option.  Brittany Harker Martin describes “socially empowered learning” in which the maker disposition develops through an awareness of knowledge within the immediate community and through the network beyond.  The carpenter, muralist, entrepreneur networks through a guild-like web where knowledge moves through dispersed nodes.  

In many ways this is drawing from strengths of pre-industrialized cultures. Edward Hall's proxemics differentiates polychronic and monochronic cultures, shedding light on the difficulties schools face in an industrial time-segmented production cycle where individual measurement is not indicative of what students can accomplish when leveraging the tools in their environment, their Zone of Proximal Development extended through the social network.

Maker DNA

When I became a teacher they taught me to arrange the desks in groups of four facing each other, so I worked from my prior knowledge as a cook-waiter-bartender in New Orleans and thought, “Yeah, four-tops, people need to talk through what they are doing, be it eating or fractions.”  No one ever explained why we needed four-tops, but maybe intuitively I knew that these watering holes were critical for the social construction of knowledge, and I did have the wherewithal in this ESL class of immigrants with vastly diverse language abilities, to group the ones who got it with the ones who were on their way.  But none of the social dynamics within the class were part of the criteria of what judged me as a teacher - keeping paperwork turned in on time, a weekly clipboard check of my wall posters and timing of my predetermined lessons to make sure I was within five minutes of set transitions, and scores on standardized test benchmarks administered five times a year.  Viva Texas. (post Ann Richards, Bush era)

What I didn’t know was that allowing for the social construction to take place I was empowering my students with a critical element in Maker DNA.

“...It is important to note that maker educators do not view peer learning simply as a nicety, something to be tacked onto instruction as an afterthought. It is part of the DNA of maker settings, where it is often necessary—either because students genuinely know things that their teachers do not or because the efficient distribution of skill-instruction requires it, such as when a large class of students needs to learn how to use a drill press and the fastest way to disseminate the information is for students to teach other students.” 
Maker-Centered Learning

I’ve seen this social construction at work throughout teaching in collective inquiry sessions, in symposiums of Junior Great Books, in Socratic Circles, in tech integration, in crowdsourced editing/revising projects, in applying the methods and mindsets of design thinking, in organizing critical events and innovation projects, and in facilitating media lab sprints.  Echoing Kris Waugh, learning IS a project that transcends the self and our role as learning engineers, designers, artisans, atelieristas is to create the environment for this empowerment.


Sonabasu. (2012, January 04). Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdzHgN7_Hs8

Calkins, L. (1983). Lessons from a child: on the teaching and learning of writing. Exeter, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.

Clapp, E. P., Ross, J., Ryan, J. O., & Tishman, S. (2017). Maker-centered learning: empowering young people to shape their worlds. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand.

Clapp, E. P. (2017). Participatory Creativity: Introducing Access and Equity to the Creative Classroom. New York: Routhledge.

Collins, G. (2017, March 08). A Girl Stands Firm on Wall Street. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/08/opinion/little-girl-statue-wall-street-bull.html?_r=0

Cheng, R. (2014, April 01). Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuEXbpCX6zA&feature=youtu.be

Ann Richards School for Girls on the Maker Journey [Web log interview]. (2017, March 16). Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://soundcloud.com/chris-davis-276158228/ann-richards-school-for-girls-the-maker-journey

Davis, C. (2017, March 06). It’s not about what they make - social emotional learning @ARStarsAP @ohartcon @SELAISD_Sarah #sxswedu #makerEd #pblchat #dtk12chat #edchat pic.twitter.com/u6YF1S1Woz. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://twitter.com/chrisdaviscng/status/838806071963701248

Davis, C. (2017, March 28). #sketch50 #lightbulb @FiftyThree @cameraplus_app #sxswedu #sxswedu2017 #edchat pic.twitter.com/XgwVNj2YhR. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://twitter.com/teacherslens/status/846601283381481472

Edwards, C. P., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. E. (1998). The hundred languages of children: the Reggio Emilia approach--advanced reflections. Greenwich, CT: Ablex Pub. Corp.

Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Greenberg, B. (2015, July 04). Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3jWOMkIcFw

Greenberg, B. (2015, August 18). Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxCLbwPxjRI

Haggard, P., & Longo, M. R. (2010, August 29). You Are What You Touch: How Tool Use Changes the Brain's Representations of the Body. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/you-are-what-you-touch/

Hall, E. T. (1992). The hidden dimension. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith Pub.

Keating, J. (2013, January 01). Why Time is a Social Construct. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-time-is-a-social-construct-164139110/?all

Krechevsky, M., & Stork, J. (2000). Challenging Educational Assumptions: Lessons from an Italian-American collaboration. Cambridge Journal of Education, 30(1), 57-74. doi:10.1080/03057640050005771

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Why Tweet? Part 4: Collaborative Learning Standards, New Literacies, Old Literacies

Disclaimer: throughout this post Twitter is mentioned as a digital space.  Not all age groups access Twitter.  I mostly work with elementary where we use private share spaces within our learning community.  Where I mention Twitter, we could also be talking about Murally, Google Classroom, Google Docs, Padlet, TodaysMeet, message boards, and other digital share space.

“...Twitter’s strength is engaging us in divergent thinking…. brainstorming, networking and spontaneous, free-flowing exchange of ideas… for a powerful synthesis, use Twitter within the context of site-based collaborative inquiry. This dynamic duo offers [students] the divergent-thinking benefits of Twitter for networking and idea sharing within a focused context of deep inquiry to solve challenges…” - Tonya Ward Singer

Moving students through divergent and convergent thinking, individually and in what the d.School calls the “radical collaboration” mindset, is part of what has been identified in 21st Century Learning Skills, the new draft of the ISTE Student Standards, in the New Literacies, and is used by the Buck Institute in their collaboration rubric.  Our tech tools can often provide mirrors for reflection, here addressing three big questions:  
  • How is collaborative learning manifested from the unwritten Socratic dialectic to modern standards to frontiers of New Literacies? (this post)
  • How are digital spaces extensions of our physical spaces and what does that indicate about our theory of learning? (later post)
  • Where are current practices leading us in understanding new literacies and individual versus group production? (later post)

21st Century Learning

The Framework for 21st Century Learning stresses the redesign of learning environments using...
“multiple environments to teach and reinforce the value of communication skills.”  
In these “multiple environments” or spaces, the use of digital spaces both synchronously and asynchronously enables a broader range of modalities for student engagement.  The four C’s outlined (creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking) echo the d.School’s mindsets ...
“...students learn best from a mix of individual and group-based learning experiences...”
and continue...
“...collaboration can enhance the development of critical thinking skills.”

ISTE Student Standards

In January 2016 ISTE released a draft of the updated Student Standards which greatly expands both their descriptions of empowered student metacognition, multimodality of expression and communal divergent thinking thinking spaces.  These two domains show a new attention to documenting collective and individual process and product.  (finalized Standards to be released at ISTE in Denver this summer).
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New Literacies

“New Literacies” according to Henry Jenkins, surround participatory culture where digital tools enable remixes, mashups, gaming, media validation, curation and manipulations, and most importantly maneuvering through surrounding affinity spaces.  This new skill set, and some would argue is a "secondary orality" or "post-Gutenberg parenthesis" building from a much older skill set, includes...
  • Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
  • Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
  • Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
  • Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
  • Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
  • Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
  • Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
  • Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
  • Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
  • Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

This shift is happening from home, in after school programs, in alternative learning spaces, and is slowly becoming a part of our school's environment.

The Common Core

Anything related to creativity, innovation, or collaboration in the Common Core gets delegated to Speaking and Listening Standards, which make sense if you are creating standards whose objective is to create national measurements from standardized tests.  The subjective softer skills surrounding collaboration, the skills the job market is crying for, are not so easy to quantify with bubbles.  The anchor standard reads…

Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
...a watered down dialectic, but perhaps a fitting praise of Socrates who would not have approved of writing anything down for fear of making our memories weak.  The primary and elementary indicators invalidate the capacity of young minds to think critically and learn from the diversity of ideas around them.  Bill Gates and company apparently don’t know Ron Berger or the Emilia Reggio program.  By third grade students are basically expected not to talk out of turn and to “stay on topic”.  By ninth grade things get more interesting with clear parallels to ISTE Standards and New Literacies.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.D Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.

Again, why the overlap with ISTE, 21st Century Learning, and New Literacies only comes under Speaking and Listening is unfortunate, but it does exist, and the standards provide pivotal points to bridge methods for reading and writing in collaborative space. Where project work is expected, the expectations for group collaboration get more specific.

The Buck Institute

The Buck Institute provides open source materials for managing project based learning where there is a clear emphasis on individual contribution, group critique, and collective product.  These segments come from their collaboration rubric…
  • uses feedback from others to improve work
  • asking probing questions
  • responding thoughtfully to new information and perspectives
  • gives useful feedback (specific, feasible, supportive) to others so they can improve their work
  • acknowledges and respects other perspectives, disagrees diplomatically
  • recognizes and uses special talents of each team member
  • tasks done separately are brought to the team for critique and revision

The d.School

The d.School at Stanford offers a series of mindsets and methods around project work centered around developing empathy for a user.  “Radical Collaboration” mandates a wide breadth of perspectives allowing for solutions to emerge from diversity.  Within their method set are improv routines for getting group dynamics synched into soft or hard focus, awareness of others and “stokes” to create an uninhibited environment open to innovation.  Critiques start with praise, “I like”, move to negatives, “I wish”, and move forward with suggestions for growth, “I wonder”.  The critique method is part of the opening of the classroom space for a culture of collaboration, and perhaps returns us to a much older, human centered learning.  

Returning to an Old Path

Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, often wrongly reduced to “next step learning”, explains that a learner’s environment encompasses multiple tools, including peers and teacher, and these tools can leverage a broader scope of learning objectives within the learner’s reach.  Our assessment systems predominantly emphasize individual measurement, however the true measure should involve what students can do with the critique of their classmates.  Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence, or in flash summary form in Austin’s Butterfly, unpack this potential of learning community as part of Vygotsky’s toolkit.

"If you want to know your own soul, you must talk to other people." - Socrates

Before justifying Twitter as collaborative tool, we should consider Socrates.  The dialectic serves as the awakening of the intellect, and face to face discussion is still at the center (have you tried getting a digital dialectic going on a MOOC discussion board?).  Consider how University of Chicago's Junior Great Books strategically leverages the Symposium at the end of the week.  The small group, culminating 15 minute discussion, is the learning product.  All reading, writing reflections, and critical dialogues up to that moment front load student cognition leading up to the Symposium.  “Socratic Circles” (later post) discuss how Twitter or alternative digital spaces preload discussions before the event, and how all minds present at the event are activated.

More than two centuries later, Paulo Freire described teaching as a political act in which critical dialogues are at the center of this act, awakening both oppressors and oppressed.  His friend and collaborator, Augusto Boal, developed methods in participatory theater to define and explore problems often beyond participants' cognisance.  Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed opens up the idea that the game/play space of theater creates a low threshold entry into an uninhibited fail-safe space to explore empathy for divergent perspectives, and transform passive spectators into spect-actors ready to act upon this empathy.  In this process, if the student enters as willing player, an inevitable aesthetic, ethical, affective connection to learning occurs.  They key here is to extend our concept of space to include digital interactions as well, but also to pull back from the digital, not use it as a magic crutch, and make the collaborative practices living events within our physical space as well.

New Tool New Considerations

The thinking behind ISTE Student Standards, 21st Century Learning, New Literacies, Design Thinking, Buck Institute, and Common Core seem to agree that learning is socially constructed.  In exploring Twitter as part of this social construction I’ll expand on the following in upcoming posts…

  • social construction happens best when our learning spaces explicitly facilitate interaction with tools such as "thinking moves"
  • digital spaces are real extensions of our physical learning spaces and the same cultural rules must be established, each space must validate the other
  • digital space brings us closer to our private speech and inner dialogue, enabling both deeper metacognition, and authentic contribution to the group
  • digital space enables crowdsourced ideas instantaneously requiring a new understanding of space, purpose, and collective construction, we don’t have to wait for our “turn to speak”, nor should we wait until 9th grade to exercise collective intelligence, it is part of our innate toolkit

Our digital spaces are still very new, like new fetishized gadgets that we can’t wait to play with.  That impulse often inhibits their potentials and this is the wicked challenge, to manage ourselves before we manage our tools.  It's fair to say that, like photography was a technological curiosity for 100 years before the intent of the eye on the other side of the lens was taken seriously, the true potentials of our current tech tools have just begun. Jaron Lanier recounts his experience at SXSW a few years ago...

“After I took the stage, the first thing I said… was that it would be a worthy experiment for the audience to not tweet or blog while I was talking.  Not out of respect for me, I explained, but out of respect for themselves.  If something I said was memorable enough to be worthy of a tweet or a blog post later on - even if it was to register violent disagreement - then that meant what I said would have had the time to be weighed, judged, and filtered by someone’s brain.  Instead of just being a passive relay for me, I went on, what was tweeted, blogged, or posted on a Facebook wall would then be you.  Giving yourself the time and space to think and feel is crucial to your existence.  Personhood requires encapsulation.  Your have to find a way to be yourself before you can share yourself.” - Jaron Lanier

The next post explores how Twitter leverages an authentic expression of self within our learning spaces.


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