Teach Wonder

Empowerment is the Why in Education

September 26, 2021 The Center for Excellence in STEM Education Season 1 Episode 7
Teach Wonder
Empowerment is the Why in Education
Show Notes Transcript

Eric Carpenter is back to talk more about what a makerspace model could look like in a school. He shares some ways to think about activity planning and talked about how STEM and makerspace learning should start in a school. This episode is a deep dive, filled with specific examples and ideas for anyone who is on a makerspace journey in education.

Links:
Makey Makey

Edison Robots

Rocky Mountain Education Design

Center for Excellence in STEM Education



Ashley O'Neil:

Okay, now we're recording.

Julie Cunningham:

So welcome to teach.

Unknown:

Wonder. Yes, welcome

Ashley O'Neil:

A podcast hosted by Ashley O'Neil and Julie to teach wonder Cunningham. Welcome back. This is the second episode in a mini series with Eric Carpenter, you can hear the full background on Eric and how we met in the first episode. In this episode, Eric goes further into what he would like students to get out of learning, and provides a ton more practical tips on how to make a change towards stem and making in your school. I will say this, if you don't have a makerspace in your school, or plans to use design thinking or stem in your building, that's fine. The ideas that Eric focuses on in this episode really focused on getting students invested in their own learning, something that transcends any initiative or content area. So one of the first questions I asked Eric was this, what is the driving force that you think is behind all of the teaching and learning that you do?

Eric Carpenter:

It's interesting, I think it might come from my roots in environmental and sustainability education, but it's empowerment. It really is just empowerment, I want learners to be able to do things I want them to. So to come back to my experiences in formal education, you know, I was trained with the regular teaching styles and the normal models and spend a lot of time in traditional classrooms. And those models didn't necessarily fit my style very well. So when I started teaching, I would mimic the teachers that I learned from, and we all kind of fold to our dominant teachers and our dominant teaching styles. And what worked well, for them didn't really work for me.

Ashley O'Neil:

This history of teaching felt familiar to some of my own observations, especially in the maker space, I was drawing less on my formal training about lesson plans and progressions. And I was looking for some specific examples from Eric, about how he translated these ideas to the day to day,

Eric Carpenter:

really about progressions, and progressions of activities that lead to an empowering opportunity at the end. I've found over the years, if you give students at opportunities succeed, create an environment where they feel comfortable, to really challenge themselves and to challenge each other, and know that there's no pressure to succeed, they really will push the envelope, they really will try. And then of course, you become the facilitator, right, you're coming around and helping and making sure that everybody's had a chance for input in that the process is going well, everyone's included, it's being done safely. When we do circuits is a great example, we start with some classics, it's brown paper, bag, circuit, wires, light bulbs, basic circuits, do one, then the next, then we incorporate an inquiry around what conducts what doesn't brown circuits or brown paper bag circuits into what conducts what doesn't into, okay, let's connect this thing to Makey Makey. By the time the learners get the Makey Makey component, they've got the fundamentals of circuits, whether they learned it in third grade or not. They have the understanding that's needed to be successful.

Ashley O'Neil:

I recognized as I was listening to Eric that this would require a different type of toolbox than I had been slowly building over my last however many years in the classroom. And so I talked to him a little bit about that switch, and where he spends his time and refining his own skills.

Eric Carpenter:

I'm comfortable, because I'm comfortable with what I'm teaching. So I have a good solid knowledge of building things, putting things together circuits and and i really worked hard to really understand the coding and all of the technologies would integrate well beyond what the learners would ever experience. So that gave me a sense of confidence that I can solve these problems, or I can address anything that might come up. And from a pedagogical standpoint, it really was deliberate. It's a goal. We want to inspire that next generation of makers and to have a sort of a semi open process or, you know, a really a closed process that seems to be open or the illusion that it's open isn't the same, but really wants students to be able to see a challenge and be able to address it in whatever way fits them best. So by putting boxes around opportunity, say okay, you can choose one of these three things, doesn't necessarily prepare them for the real world when it's here's a real problem in the real world, whether it's an engineering focused problem or mechanical problem, the world is your oyster. And now the new learners can go out and find information and tackle this themselves. There. We don't want to create those dependencies. We want learners to feel empowered to see a problem. do research, find information, try out a number of solutions and keep trying until something works.

Ashley O'Neil:

So there's a scaffolded approach to considering the skills and content and tools, whether the focus is energy and the students are building or reimagining wind turbines, or it's a green screen news report, and the students are developing the script and the skills to film. Along with that, though, Eric kept bringing our attention back to the design process, and the soft skills that are also essential in getting this type of learning to really work.

Eric Carpenter:

We have a tendency as people to defer thinking to other people, oh, that's the smart boy in the class, or that she always has great ideas, or my ideas aren't good, or for learners that have potentially, um, different abilities, or learners who come from underrepresented communities, they're not necessarily comfortable putting themselves out there. So their ideas won't be represented, unless you make a deliberate opportunity to overcome the idea that my ideas aren't important, or their ideas are always better, or, oh, she's really great with coding. So she'll figure that part out. Well, this is a coding class, we want everybody to be able to figure it out. But what are your ideas, a traditional classroom teacher has a great advantage, because over the work that I do, because they can scaffold this out over a year, you can or many years in some cases, you can literally have a structured activity, that's about brainstorming and what brainstorming looks like and ideation and making decisions as a team and prototyping and literally build each step, say, week by week, or activity by activity. So you're developing each component of your engineering design process, whichever one you might use, students are getting comfortable with each of those processes. And then you just start taking down the barriers, start opening it up a little more and opening it up a little more. I don't often recommend to teachers that you do an open ended makerspace first time, you know, when you're not comfortable with it, and the learners aren't comfortable with it, because they can go really badly. And we can end up disempowering learners by Oh, my box didn't come out good, I can't use a saw or something like that. For sure, scaffold that out, make sure that first thing is easy to not easy to do. But challenging enough, but yet everyone can succeeded it. brown paper circuits great one, or here's popsicle sticks and make a flashlight or something. With coding, it's, you know, drive the robot forward, drive the robot backwards, spin it 360 degrees, everybody can do that. Okay, now make it do something a little more advanced, then I can have the learner, okay, now, make it do whatever you want it to do make a little maze and have it go through the maze. Because they have the skills now to be successful, both the soft, soft skills and hard skills, it's really about setting the learners up for success.

Ashley O'Neil:

Setting the learners up for success means considering both sides of the work, asking the questions, what tools will they need, what content knowledge applies here, and also asking how my students comfortable failing in this classroom? Do we have a culture that allows everyone to have a voice, these activities are front loaded with the work of building these types of scaffolds. Once the students are in the room, your role is really to facilitate and ask them the questions that will move them towards their goal. It also means leaning into your best assets in the classroom.

Eric Carpenter:

And then that learner who is good at coding? Sure, they say, and this happens sometimes you know, you're doing a basic scratch program. And I always ask how many of you guys code with scratch and you know, half of them will put up their hands? And I'll ask how many of you guys have a scratch account and have more than two things in it? And now we're talking one or two learners out of 100 that'll have their hand up or one or two out of a classroom? And I'd say you see those two people they know more about scratch than I do before you come to me with a question come to them. Because suddenly now that recoding isn't always well represented as an important skill in rural schools or in some schools at all. Suddenly, that learner who has that special ability becomes the star. They are the person who can answer questions and all the look on their face when somebody comes up and is like, oh, like, I just can't do this. And suddenly they're becoming a teacher. They're getting that sense of empowerment that Be honest. You know, some of those learners might have never had before in a group. They can do something nobody else can.

Ashley O'Neil:

Eventually, Eric and I shifted our conversation to focus a little bit more on what this looks like for a teacher.

Eric Carpenter:

And we talked about maker spaces and how this gets incorporated in a broader perspective. One of the great challenges that I see in schools is we have a lot of just like any classroom, I have a lot of different levels of comfort levels of motivation. people's interest just in general. So when we get into maker spaces at a school level, or certain bracing, making or even call it engineering design, or any of the other things, we call it these days, I've seen a number of models, some work, some don't. I'm not a huge fan of the one teacher who's not going to have a makerspace. And we're going to create this and I'm going to rah rah rah. Because that's not what we want the learners to get out of this. That's not the experience we're trying to create for the learners. So let's take the exact same process that we would use with the learners and start with the teachers. The goal of this process is to design our maker space. Right? instantly. I've got buy in Okay, wait, you want me to be part of this? I thought they were going to do it? Isn't there a book that tells us how to do this? Isn't there a kit we can buy for this? And yeah, those things are all there. But I personally, I've seen a number of times, I don't believe it's the right model. When we've seen schools be very successful at this, at the district level, or all the way down to individual schools. It starts with the teachers. And it starts with each teacher looking at the units they have throughout the year, and picking one or two units that really lend themselves toward this type of experiential learning or learning environment. Not every unit is great for this. You do basic addition and subtraction. Sure, I can have a makerspace activity around that. When I want to show application level of addition and subtraction that might be a better place with this. Or word problems, right? That's okay, that's where we're going to do word problems that I've always had. Not every learner gets that that's the one that needs the extra piece. So I literally have each teacher or cadre of teachers at a grade level, come up with which types of activities or which units that fit the makerspace model, then I start mashing those together, say, okay, the kindergarten unit wants to do this, the first graders are going to do these three things, the second graders are going to do these four things all the way through. And the same could be true for eighth, ninth 10th 11th. When the teachers own this process, and they start thinking about what they want to do in the space, suddenly the design the space becomes something that they're intimately involved with. Because the room that's going to have fourth graders using tools, it also has to have kindergarteners using blocks in it. So suddenly, the idea of having tools laying around his out, having cabinets that are up higher close or lock becomes important. What we see so often is teachers will jump onto a makerspace movement piece, they'll pro a number of activities together, because that's how maker spaces started, it was a lot of activity, activity, activity, activity activity. When they start looking at it more holistically, suddenly the rest of it comes out. Oh, we were going to do design thinking with kids. Should we introduce this in fourth grade? Well, well, no. Maybe we should talk about, well, where do we want to introduce this concept? Okay, it turns out, we're gonna introduce it in kindergarten, we're just gonna call it design, right. And then it'll be design thinking, and then it'll be engineering design process. And then it'll be the design thinking process. And as we go forward, lots of things come out of that process, not just what's the room gonna look like, but Oh, hey, this is what you're going to do in kindergarten. Here's what we can do in fourth grade. Here's how I can tie back to that. Here's how we can build an integrated system. And suddenly, because I've got teachers or even grade level leaders, working together and thinking in that same open, collaborative environment, the connections naturally occur, they see that bridge. And suddenly you'll have something occur that says, hey, if you guys are going to use Makey, Makey, in fourth grade, we'll do Edison in fifth grade. And by the time they get to sixth grade, we can incorporate these drones. And then by the time they get to seventh grade, we can have an integrated technology project and that'll be what they do. That's a very powerful model at a school level. To take it down to something that you could write out or to make it very, very simple. There is no cookbook for a makerspace for school, it really needs to start with the learners, what we want them to get out of it, which units and opportunities at each grade level, those opportunities best and then design activities, a space to houses, activities, and a process, both evaluative processes and constructive, you know, building design thinking processes that match those goals.

Ashley O'Neil:

There's a part of my brain that did initially rebel against this idea, time and energy are precious. And I had some questions. I know that collaborating and working as a team and developing things from the ground up can be tremendously satisfying and exciting. But wouldn't a kit or something that was done already by another group, be a more efficient route, especially for teachers who are new to the process. But Eric's beliefs about learning come back in a vital way here, he already sees teachers as engineers, this is just another project that's totally in their skill set.

Eric Carpenter:

Interestingly enough, and I started doing this more later in my practice, but also with adults and teachers, to look at teaching itself as engineering design, I joke with teachers that I work with, because we do big teacher training, we look teaching is engineering. So when I am usually I'll How many of you guys are engineers, and with the kids, I'd like how many of you have ever redesigned your room or made something without a recipe? How many of you have ever looked at a disparate group of kids knew that your lesson wasn't going to work and did something on the fly? That is engineering. So really, education is an engineering process, I have a challenge, I need to teach her use the parentheses around teach this group of learners this concept, well, I look at that group and see that what I've got to work with, and now I have to engineer literally design a solution set, or experience or set of experiences that will accomplish that goal. So we want students to be engineers, we want teachers to think like yours, because they do it every day. It's actually part of what we do for a living. We were just never taught to think that way. We were taught and again, I come from a traditional education program and my training, the formal aspects of it. This is the curriculum, this is what you will do, and this is how it works. And then you will test and if it doesn't work, then you can do remediation. And here's the three things. What if those things don't work? When you start looking at education a little more broadly, and saying, Okay, I've got a goal, these learners need to be able to do X or understand why there's a lot of pathways to get there. It really depends on time, we do know that direct instruction is very quick. It works for simple concept level development. And it's relatively efficient and works in a broad spectrum of learners. Conversely, if I have the time and can invest in a little more enriching, and deeper experiences, the research there, I get better outcomes, I have more depth to learning, I have more connections between content, I have more connections built between children and learning in teams, again, come back to soft skills and hard skills. There's a lot of opportunity there. And happily, I can say more and more schools and learning environments are embracing that from K 12, all the way through to university programs. When we think about some of the new Well, I guess they're not new now. But developing challenges in our education environments, we think of the autism spectrum learners and the inclusive classrooms. And now we have classrooms, increasing in size in schools increasing in diversity, these things are going to become more and more important. Sure, I can stand up in front and read my notes and show you the same slides the same time is that really providing the most enriching experience that I can provide for those learners.

Ashley O'Neil:

Our conversation took a few more turns. But Eric started talking to us about the larger implications of design thinking process that we also use in our space, and one that Eric uses often in creating challenges, but also a process that he works through with students and teachers in developing innovations.

Eric Carpenter:

Because this great story where the learners approach the problem using the Maker Space model, and it was standing in line at school waiting for lunches. So the lunch line took so long, that by the time they had time to eat, they just walked down their food so they could go outside because they limited amount of time. So they approached it using design thinking as a school. They put click counters using Makey Makey is on the floor. So they could see how fast the lines are moving and what the bottlenecks were. And he tells a story better than I do. But it turns out, passing out the milk was the bottleneck. So they did an experiment. They put the cameras out, they put the Makey Makey. There they put the milk out to see if kids who weren't supposed to would take milk. Turns out, they don't. So take out the bottleneck. Suddenly, lunches are moving so much faster. And the students were driving this whole process. The administrators they made a report to the administration the administration sought, the administration said Wow, that's amazing and integrated a district wide. Think of the empowerment of students and the teachers. Suddenly my design thinking can change the world. That's empowerment, my I process I can contribute, I can be part of the brave tomorrow.

Ashley O'Neil:

Eric has dozens of great stories like these stories of students taking charge of a situation and working on a complex solution together. We had fun design thinking as a team before meeting Eric, it works for us because it's grounded in students empathizing with their audience and designing specific outcomes with them in mind, it gives us the flexibility to have a lot of different projects happening at once. Under a broad umbrella of a challenge. We like that it gives students ownership over the process and isn't as focused on a correct outcome. But Eric sees an even bigger picture when he thinks about getting students to see themselves and problem solvers in this way.

Eric Carpenter:

We think about issues like eco phobia, or the population bombs and these things, there's a lot pushing kids down or having disenfranchised feelings. In this case, we can create opportunities, where learners feel empowered, feel like they're part of something and want to be part of it. Oh, yeah, sure. There's a problem with x. How are we gonna fix that? How can you solve that? How could we maybe take your solution and expand that? How can we literally change the world? I have a great route, because I come from environmental education, we all change the world. We all change the world just by being in. The question is, how do you want to change the world? It's as open ended as that, you know, you can take that a lot of ways you want to be a negative person, a positive person? Do you want to change your life? Do you want to how do you want to change the world? period are usually question mark, how do you want to change the world? That's it? That's a big picture question. But it's one of those things where by having students think about things like that, and in those terms, they can literally change their view of their self change their view of their own efficacy, or perhaps their family's role in a community. And honestly, as we have learned, only they can change the world. elementary students do it all the time, we just don't give them the credit for it. We see some of the famous ones, the credit thunberg, and people like that, who have really taken it to that political level and are known for it. That young lady has inspired so many kids to feel that sense of empowerment. So how do we as facilitators and teachers in this country, glom onto that and say, Yeah, she did it. And here's how you might be able to do that. Here's how you can be part of something bigger, or you can solve a real problem. Come back to the beginning of our conversation. One of the great my beginnings in maker spaces really was helping kids understand how to design prosthetics, which is really about helping other people.

Ashley O'Neil:

I'm betting you heard the themes in Eric's conversations today, empowering students to get them to exceed their own expectations, getting students to invest in their learning and the world around them. These are all the big ideas that help guide the decisions that he makes. And he's teaching students and training teachers. So Eric may run training sessions on coding and drones or robotics. But you'll hear these themes as the why for what he does, which is the point, the tech that these students will use in middle school will be obsolete by the time they're in college or throughout their first work gig. So while the camp maybe drones, the process is engineering and the outcomes are collaboration and design, all of which will last the students for a long time. It's the same with me. I don't use a ton of the tech that we did in our trainings with Eric, but I absolutely have taken with me some of these pedagogical principles and these guiding forces in my own teaching. This is teach wonder, brought to you by the Center for Excellence in STEM education. We've got one more bonus episode with Eric available now. If you're interested in hearing how he shifted his work to working in remote settings, that's an episode that's not to be missed. As always, links are in the show notes and transcripts are available on our website. Thanks for listening.