Category Archives: Creative Fluency
I had a hard time coming up with an idea that incorporated global digital citizenship in a physics curriculum meaningfully. Ultimately I had my students work in small groups to plan and teach 20 minute lessons to small groups of lower school students. I had considered this idea initially, but was skeptical that it was practical. I owe a huge thanks to Roxanne Warner for putting all of the logistics together!
The planning stages of this project were very interesting. I wanted to ensure that my students were teaching meaningful physics vs. just playing with the elementary students. In that sprit, I let students know that a part of their grade would depend on the elementary students learning at least one thing from their lesson. They immediately bulked at this idea. What if their students didn’t pay attention or worse purposely sabotaged the lesson? As a teacher, it was great to see my students realize that teaching might not be as easy as they thought.
The lessons themselves were very successful – the elementary students loved them. It was fun to watch the elementary students experiment with and explain simple physics concepts. My students enjoyed the experience too. We used four class periods to complete the project (two planning, one peer editing, and then the actual lessons), but I feel like it was time well spent. From a physics standpoint, my students were learning as they taught. I was also pleased when I heard my students say things like:
This [teaching] is hard.
You do this for five periods?
My first venture into project based learning has been very interesting. I asked my film criticism students to create a movie trailer using iMovie. I felt that it allowed creativity within a framework that could be managed by 7th and 8th graders. I tried to give only a few restrictions, and I provided them with the tools that they needed to be successful. I told them that the trailer had to be for an existing movie, and only one group could use a genre so we didn’t have the same format and music over and over. We have seven groups with three people in a group. I tried to mix grades and genders to create a group that could work efficiently. I provided them with their notebook of terms to check and match with the iMovie requirements, access to a computer, and a great technical support person, my mentor Ami, to help answer questions. The initial reaction to the assignment- stunned silence and blank looks. After a few questions, and one eager student, I finally got a reaction to the project, and it was not what I expected. My “digital natives” did not have a clue how to approach the assignment, and several students expressed reluctance because although several of them had experience with iMovie, they didn’t think they could handle this specific program.
I then realized that it was not the technology, or the project itself- they didn’t know how to get started or organize their tasks. So we took a big step back and practiced some basic techniques of problem solving. It was fascinating to see how differently each group began their preparations. One group storyboarded their entire trailer by drawing it out frame by frame “just like Hitchcock did with his movies”- I was so proud because they obviously paid attention during that unit. Other groups made lists, divided responsibilities, tried to do every aspect together, and even had a few creative differences. The filming process challenged them artistically, and we learned how to use a green screen, and be patient enough to do several takes. We are watching the finished product on Monday. I suspect that the real lesson learned has more to do with the process than the product. If that is the case, I will consider this first project a success.
“Why won’t you help me? You’re the teacher.”
“This project is going to take FOR…EVER. Ugh.”
“You mean I actually have to think on this assignment?!?”
Ever heard one these grumblings from one of your students? Believe it or not, it’s a good thing. It means your learning environment is transitioning. Our students are programmed to succeed in the traditional educational system. They want to continue to use BASIC while the world now requires them to know Objective C.
FACT: The recent shift to 21st century learning – promotion of skills like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, curation, and innovation – is just as difficult for students to embrace as it is for teachers. Shocked?
Our kids are accustomed to the age-old game of content acquisition (passive learning) and testing (regurgitation). And many have gotten downright amazing at it. You know them. They’re typically your honor students. The ones who breeze through the homework and ace all your tests. They average a 98% or better in your class. And they’ve found a nice, warm, cozy niche in your educational environment. The problem is that information, once scarce, is now abundant and instantly available in today’s world.
So now, you’re challenging them to move. You’re asking them to take knowledge and do something with it (other than just spew it back to you). You’re asking them to design. Create. Innovate. Share. Debate. Present. Choose. Imply. Ask questions. Manipulate the content – and do so in a team with others.
It’s not going to be an easy adjustment for some of them. And, as teachers, we must understand the challenge involved in figuring out the rules of this new game – 21CL. So, what can we do to help our students then?
Have you encountered student resistance to 21CL activities in your classroom? How have you handled it? Found anything that works? Share your experiences with the E21 blog community. Comment on this post.
We have to “deprogram” our students by increasing the 21CL opportunities. We have to talk with them about the fact that the game is changing. Discuss the new “rules” when you implement a PBL unit. Explain that it may seem at times like you’re not teaching them, but that’s because you want them to learn. The active process is now theirs, not yours. It’s because you want them to take ownership of their own learning. Assure them that you are not abandoning them – and they can call on you for help and guidance as they explore. Expect mistakes along the way…and encourage your students to learn from failure. You are their 21st Century Tour Guide.
Failure is okay. Some of the world’s most successful people failed miserably while learning to succeed. Remind your students that they fail time and time again playing video games.
And yet, in the end, they always save the world.
While reading through my student’s Wiki time logs and checking their contributions thus far (spring break was a partial deadline), I came across a comment I had not expected!
This was actually kind of fun and very helpful! Can’t wait to see next quarter’s Wiki!
This same student was very skeptical just three months ago! At that time, she felt like it was the “blind leading the blind” and seemed unsure how to contribute to the Wiki.
Likely because of the spring break deadline, the site has improved greatly even since I posted a couple weeks ago (check out a history page to see how it evolves). There is still much that can be done to improve it – but eventually I think it has the potential to approach the breadth and quality of a professional site.
I am a little behind where I thought I’d be so we have not actually started the energy challenge yet – I will post a recap (& pictures!) once it happens (right after spring break). Anyway, the basic idea of the energy challenge is to build a completely autonomous Rube Goldberg Machine that is capable of popping 3 balloons in a specific order. Students also earn credit for involving multiple energy transformations (i.e. a falling mass releases energy stored in a spring). To accomplish the task students are given a wide variety of household materials including masses, springs, popsicle sticks, cardboard, string, magnets, wheels/axils, pulleys, mouse traps, pvc pipe, thumbtacks, pins, plastic track, textbooks, supersized rubber bands, clothes pins to name a few.
Last year, when the first energy challenge occurred, I was floored by the diversity of ideas. I’m not exaggerating when I say no two designs were even remotely alike. Some groups of students designed machines so complex they would have impressed Goldberg himself. Others designed elegantly simple machines. Either way, you could see how excited students were to match their creativity against such an open ended challenge.
Another thing I think was neat about this activity was that it could have fit under solution fluency or collaborative fluency just as easily.
The Big Picture
Obviously this activity is best suited for physics. However, I think this project demonstrates some of the components that Ken Robinson wrote of in Learning to be Creative. First, creative projects require that many possible routes exist to a solution. Second, most creative activates require resources. Third, to inspire creativity, students need to buy in to the activity. Finally, since creativity is applied imagination – there must be a clear way to evaluate student’s creativity.
My students have started constructing their Honors Physics Wiki. Right now the site is quite raw. We are almost exclusively creating content, mostly text-based. There are some errors on the site and it’s not polished yet. I’m itching to correct the errors, but I’m holding back because I think peer revision is an important part of the process.
Our first peer-comment was posted a few days ago! I’m hoping that as more and more of the obvious content appears on the site, students will begin to shift some of their attention to multimedia creation, revision, organization, and refinement. I’m excited to see where this site goes!
Are you sick of all the talk about 21st century skills? I mean, we are almost 12 years into the new millennium. Some educational pundits go so far as to demand we stop using the term, but Chris Dede attempts to rationalize the “21st Century Skills” movement:
Inventing new problem-solving heuristics when standard protocols have failed is an important skill; when all diagnostics are normal, but the patient is still feeling unwell, for instance, a skilled physician can think outside the box and become an expert decision maker.
Our kids NEED to learn how to think outside the box. This isn’t always an easy skill for them to pick up. You see, they’ve grown accustomed to the 20th century educational method whereby the teacher provides the answers and the student regurgitates them on paper homework, quizzes, or tests to prove they’ve acquired knowledge. They have already mastered this educational “game” and they like winning it. Our students want to be able to finish tasks quickly and easily, with great success. But what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. How will they answer those difficult questions that may not have a clear or easily-accessible answer?
Dede goes on:
…the nature of collaboration is shifting to a more sophisticated skillset. In addition to collaborating face-to-face with colleagues across a conference table, 21st century workers increasingly accomplish tasks through mediated interactions with peers halfway across the world whom they may never meet face-to-face.
Our students NEED to be able to collaborate; this goes beyond mere communication skills. They need to be able to work in groups to achieve project success. They need to know how to use modern-day tools like Skype or Apple FaceTime to connect and work with colleagues on the other side of the world. The only way they are going to begin life after Heritage Hall with that skillset is if we, their teachers, allow them time and setting to develop the essential skill of collaboration.
I love the comparison Dede makes next:
Conventional, 20th century K-12 instruction emphasizes manipulating predigested information to build fluency in routine problem solving, rather than filtering data derived from experiences in complex settings to develop skills in sophisticated problem finding.
Ask yourself, “Do I provide ‘complex settings’ for my students to work in? Do I allow them to find problems instead of memorize information? Do my students create their own data?” Hopefully, the answers to these questions are affirmative. Our students live in an information age – in fact, some have called it the “Age of InfoWhelm.” As Dede suggests:
The ability to separate signal from noise in a potentially overwhelming flood of incoming data is a suite of 21st century skills.
The 21st Century Charger needs to be prepared and able to filter the meaningful information out of the endless deluge of data. He needs to be able to ask questions about the data and explore resolution to such problems in a journey mapped out by himself. It is critical that the teacher becomes the “guide on the side” in this process for meaning can only be 100% relevant when it originates from oneself (the student).
In the book I read, Dede refers to Henry Jenkins’ interesting list of digital literacies. They are: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transformed navigation, networking, and negotiation.
To me, those are clearly skills that would make a person successful in the world of the near-future. The question that lies ahead of us is…
How can we prepare our students for life and the workplace of their future?
My students had divided a book we were reading into chapters, and each group was responsible for creating a video of that chapter’s main events.
It was a good way to review in a dynamic and memorable way. The history teacher across the hall had been teaching his students to make Common Craft videos, and I offered this as an alternative to filming a live scene.
In an act of media fluency one student said “I think the app my sister is using in Kindergarten would be perfect for this!” He described how it worked and it seemed interesting, so we quickly downloaded the free app and started testing it out.
Puppet Pals brings out the creative inner child in anyone who picks it up. You can choose pre-set characters, or upload your own images and set them in pre-set or uploaded scenes of your choosing.
When the scene is set, you can hit record and narrate or give voices to the characters as you move them around the scene. It’s essentially a puppet show that an individual can perform and film at the same time.
If you’ve seen a young child at play, moving toys around and giving them voices, this is the digital recording of that very same phenomenon.
The videos are fun to watch and the students have to summarize, problem-solve, collaborate, plan and execute the project… without even realizing they are using so many important 21st Century skills.
I love Puppet Pals, it’s going to become a standard fim-making option in my classroom.