All posts by Judi Fusco

Ambitious Mashups and CIRCLS

By CIRCL Educators

CIRCL, the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning, has come to an end, but don’t worry, we’re getting ready to roll over to a new project called CIRCLS, the Center for Integrative Research in Computing and Learning Sciences. Stay tuned here and we’ll keep you apprised of any changes. Of course we’ll still be working to bridge practice and research and share what CIRCLS is doing and what we, as educators, are thinking about and facing in our work. If you’d like to get more involved with our work, please contact us! We’re looking for more educators to think and write with.

In the meantime, before we transition to CIRCLS, we want to dive into the final report from CIRCL. In it, we reflect on what we’ve learned since 2013 when CIRCL started. The world and technology have both changed quite a bit. Over the years, CIRCL worked with the approximately 450 projects funded by the National Science Foundation through their Cyberlearning program. The term Cyberlearning is a hard word to grasp, but the program and the projects in it were about using what we know about how people learn and creating new design possibilities for learning with emerging technology. In addition, in a 2017 report, we noted a strong commitment to equity in the CIRCL community. That commitment continues and is discussed in our final report with recommendations for future work to strengthen this important theme.

One thing we were struck by, in the review of the projects, was that there were many innovative designs to enhance learning with technology. As we tried to categorize the projects, we noticed that most contained combinations of multiple technologies, learning theories, and methods. While this may sound confusing, these combinations were purposefully designed to help augment learning and deepen our understanding of the technologies and how people learn. We looked for a term to use to explain this phenomenon and couldn’t find one, so we came up with a new one: Ambitious Mashups. In addition to the importance of mashing things up, the report also discusses:

Next week, we’ll be part of a webinar and talk through the different sections of the report. The webinar welcomes practitioners who want to learn more about research on emerging technologies from NSF-funded projects. While the projects aren’t always ready for use in a school today they offer ideas for new projects and new ways to think about how to use technology to support learning. The ambitious mashup projects think about learning in different ways and show how grounding activities in what we know about how people learn can help meet learning goals and outcomes. Ambitious mashups are usually exciting and give new ideas. CIRCL Educator Sarah Hampton says CIRCL reports can “help you get excited about the future landscape of education.”

We invite you to join us to learn more about Ambitious Mashups and Reflections on a Decade of Cyberlearning Research Webinar
Date: 10/28/2020
Time: 4 pm Eastern / 3 pm Central / 1 pm Pacific

Register

 


 

Book Review: You Look Like a Thing and I Love You

By Judi Fusco

During CIRCL Educators’ Summer of Artificial Intelligence (AI), I read the book You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How AI Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place1, by Dr. Janelle Shane. I got the recommendation for it from fellow CIRCL Educator, Angie Kalthoff.

I found the book helpful even though it is not about AI in education. I read and enjoyed the e-book and the audio version. As I started writing this review, I was driving somewhere with one of my teenagers and I asked if we could listen to the book. She rolled her eyes but was soon laughing out loud as we listened. I think that’s a great testament to how accessible the book is.

Teaching an AI

Many of us use AI products like Siri or Alexa, on a regular basis. But how did they get “smart?” In the book, Dr. Shane writes about the process of training machine learning2, systems to be “intelligent”. She tells us how they certainly don’t start smart. Reading about the foibles, flailings, and failings that she has witnessed in her work helped me understand why it is so important to get the training part right and helped me understand some of what needs to be considered as new products are developed.

Dr. Shane starts out comparing machine learning and rule-based AI systems, which are two very different types of AI systems. Briefly, a rule-based system uses rules written by human programmers as it works with data to make decisions. By contrast, a machine learning algorithm3 is not given rules. Instead, humans pick an algorithm, give a goal (maybe to make a prediction or decision), give example data that helps the algorithm learn4, and then the algorithm has to figure out how to achieve that goal. Depending on the algorithm, they will discover their own rules (for some this means adjusting weights on connections between what is input and what they output). From the example data given to the algorithm, it “learns” or rather the algorithm improves what it produces through its experience with that data. It’s important to note that the algorithm is doing the work to improve and not a human programmer. In the book, Dr. Shane explains that after she sets up the algorithm with a goal and gives it training data she goes to get coffee and lets it work.

Strengths and Weaknesses

There are strengths and weaknesses in the machine learning approach. A strength is that as the algorithm tries to reach its goal, it can detect relationships and features of details that the programmer may not have thought would be important, or that the programmer may not even have been aware of. This can either be good or bad.

One way it can be good or positive is that sometimes an AI tries a novel solution because it isn’t bogged down with knowledge constraints of rules in the world. However, not knowing about constraints in the world can simultaneously be bad and lead to impossible ideas. For example, in the book, Dr. Shane discusses how in simulated worlds, an AI will try things that won’t work in our world because it doesn’t understand the laws of physics. To help the AI, a human programmer needs to specify what is impossible or not. Also, an AI will take shortcuts that may lead to the goal, but may not be fair. One time, an AI created a solution that took advantage of a situation. The AI discovered there wasn’t enough RAM in the computer of its opponent for a specific move. The AI would make that move and cause the other computer to run out of RAM and then crash. The AI would then win every time. Dr. Shane discusses many other instances where an AI exploits a weakness to look like it’s smart.

In addition, one other problem we have learned from machine learning work, is that it highlights and exacerbates problems that it learns from training data. For example, much training data comes from the internet. Much of the data on the internet is full of bias. When biased data are used to train an AI, the biases and problems in the data become what guide the AI toward its goal. Because of this, our biases, found on the internet, become perpetuated in the decisions the machine learning algorithms make. (Read about some of the unfair and biased decisions that have occurred when AI was used to make decisions about defendants in the justice system.)

Bias

People often think that machines are “fair and unbiased” but this can be a dangerous perspective. Machines are only as unbiased as the human who creates them and the data that trains them. (Note: we all have biases! Also, our data reflect the biases in the world.)

In the book, Dr. Shane says, machine learning occurs in the AI algorithms by “copying humans” — the algorithms don’t find the “best solution” or an unbiased one, they are seeking a way to do “what the humans would have done” (p 24) in the past because of the data they use for training. What do you think would happen if an AI were screening job candidates based on how companies typically hired in the past? (Spoiler alert: hiring practices do not become less discriminatory and the algorithms perpetuate and extend biased hiring.)

A related problem comes about because machine learning AIs make their own rules. These rules are not explicitly stated in some machine learning algorithms so we (humans aka the creators and the users) don’t always know what an AI is doing. There are calls for machine learning to write out the rules it creates so that humans can understand them, but this is a very hard problem and it won’t be easy to fix. (In addition, some algorithms are proprietary and companies won’t let us know what is happening.)

Integrating AIs into our lives

It feels necessary to know how a machine is making decisions when it is tasked with making decisions about people’s lives (e.g., prison release, hiring, and job performance). We should not blindly trust how AIs make decisions. AIs have no idea of the consequences of its decisions. We can still use them to help us with our work, but we should be very cautious about the types of problems we automate. We also need to ensure that the AI makes it clear what they are doing so that humans can review the automation, how humans can override decisions, and the consequences of an incorrect decision by an AI. Dr. Shane reminds us that an “AI can’t be bribed but it also can’t raise moral objections to anything it’s asked to do” (p. 4).

In addition, we need to ensure the data we use for training are as representative as possible to avoid bias, make sure that the system can’t take shortcuts to meet its goal, and we need to make sure the systems work with a lot of different types of populations (e.g., gender, racial, people with learning differences). AIso, an AI is not as smart as a human, in fact, Dr. Shane shares that most AI systems using machine learning (in 2019) have the approximate brainpower of a worm. Machine learning can help us automate tasks, but we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that AIs don’t harm or damage people. 

What are your thoughts or questions on machine learning or other types of AI in education? Tweet to @CIRCLEducators and be part of the conversation.

Thank you to James Lester for reviewing this post. We appreciate your work in AI and your work to bring educators and researchers together on this topic.

See a recent TED Talk by author Janelle Shane.


Notes:

  1. Read the book to find out what the title means!
  2. Machine learning is one of several AI approaches.
  3. Machine Learning is a general term that also includes neural networks and the more specialized neural network class of Deep Learning. Note also, a famous class of ML algorithms that use rules are decision-tree algorithms.
  4. Some algorithms “learn” with labeled examples and some without, but that’s a discussion beyond the scope of this post.
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Teaching and Beliefs about Learning

By Judi Fusco

This post features the dissertation work of Michaela Jacobsen, Ed.D (completed March, 2019). She is currently Assistant Principal at Louis E. Stocklmeir Elementary School in the Cupertino Union School District.

In her dissertation, she investigated:
1) What supports teachers need when they are actively leading and designing their own professional learning.
2) How teacher beliefs about learning relate to how they participate in an active professional learning program.
3) How teachers beliefs about teaching and learning change from beginning to end of the experience.

We are currently in a time of uncertainty about so many issues. During this past spring, teachers experienced a time when everything changed. The work by Dr. Jacobsen looks into the importance of thinking about beliefs during a change process. While her work looked at a set of specific conditions around change, she found important considerations for any situation where people are asked to change.

We know from past research that effective professional learning promotes active learning, emphasizes collaboration, is sustained over time, is related to teachers’ specific contexts and curriculum, and is coherent with the school as a whole. Over the school year, Dr. Jacobsen worked with the three teachers. The school principal and vice principal also offered support. The three teachers and Dr. Jacobsen, who acted as a facilitator for the group, devoted much of their school-based professional learning time to work together. A problem-based learning (PBL) approach was the method.

In PBL, learners work to solve authentic, ill-structured problems with a facilitator. The facilitator helps establish a culture of collaboration in developing a deep shared understanding of the problem and possible solutions. Facilitators also model good problem solving strategies and refrain from giving answers. In PBL, learners gain knowledge as they work together and discuss and reflect around the problem to be solved. PBL was chosen because it promotes active inquiry, the acquisition and deepening of problem-solving skills, self-direction, reflective practices, and collaboration and communication skills. These are important for all learners, but especially important for professionals.

Together, the three teachers chose a problem around how to adopt a new practice, specifically how to help students become better problem solvers in math. All the teachers felt that learning how to help students become better problem solvers would be challenging, but agreed it would be an important problem to solve. Math was taught in a very traditional instructional manner in their school and the new practice of putting the learner at the center did not fit particularly well in the school’s established culture. Through interviews and questions, Dr. Jacobsen learned that for two of the teachers, the new practice did not fit into their belief systems of teaching and learning. One of the teachers had beliefs that aligned with the methods and practices necessary to help students become better problem solvers.

For the teacher with beliefs that were consistent with the new practice, she worked to fully understand what it meant for a student to be a better problem solver and then planned and worked to implement many aspects of the new practice in her classroom. Over the year, she planned and implemented many changes in her classroom practice. She also reported seeing changes that she felt were positive in her students as they became better problem solvers.

For the two teachers with conflicting beliefs to the new practice, there was little change in their understanding of the new practice or how to adopt it. In fact, to avoid a conflict between what they were supposed to do in the new practice and their beliefs, they joined forces and developed their own understanding of how to help their students become better problem solvers. They spent time together and constructed a way to make a different minimal change that was not in conflict with their beliefs. They also reported how they saw their students as being different than the students of the teacher who had success with the new problem solving methods. They used this “difference” to further reinforce their beliefs that the new methods couldn’t work with their students. They did not interact more than necessary with the facilitator, the third teacher, or the principal or vice principal all of whom could have challenged their thinking and given new issues to consider.

How the classroom practices of the three teachers changed or not depended on their beliefs around teaching and learning before the project started. The teacher who had beliefs that aligned with the new practice was able to understand it more deeply and move it into practice. The two teachers who started with beliefs that clashed with the new practice reinforced each other as they minimized how they would implement the new practice. These two teachers also used the “culture” of the school as a basis for defending their position and avoided the facilitator, the third teacher, and the principal and vice principal who were interested in making changes.

What does all this mean? If teachers are asked to make a change that does not align with what they believe about how students learn, they will most likely change “how they are being asked to change” to a way that matches their beliefs. When teachers are making a change, they need much support to help them understand the change. They need even more support when the change does not align with beliefs. Dr. Jacobsen outlines three strategies to help change teachers beliefs:

1) have them reflect on their beliefs in collaboration with others to think about pedagogical practices,
2) have a peer or coach (gently) challenge their beliefs and give feedback, and
3) give assistance while the teacher is making a change so that they can fully understand what needs to occur.

Additionally, experiencing a new pedagogy as a learner can be very effective. When teachers are put into a situation to be a learner, they can experience and really understand how the pedagogy works to promote learning.

Dr. Jacobsen’s dissertation citation is:

Jacobsen, M. (2019). A Multi-case Study of a Problem-based Learning Approach to Teacher Professional Development (Doctoral dissertation, Pepperdine University).

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for us, please share via Twitter at @circleducators and #CIRCLedu

Further reading:

Howard, B. C., McGee, S., Schwartz, N., & Purcell, S. (2000). The Experience of Constructivism: Transforming Teacher Epistemology. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 32(4), 455-465. doi: 10.1080/08886504.2000.1078221

McConnel, T., Eberhardt, J., Parker, J., Stanaway, J., Lundeberg, M., & Koehler, M. (2008). The PBL project for teachers: Using problem-based learning to guide K-12 science teachers’ professional learning. MSTA Journal, 53, 16-21.

Mulford, W., Silins, H., & Leithwood, K. (2004). Problem-Based Learning: A Vehicle for Professional Development of School Leaders. Educational Leadership for Organisational Learning and Improved Student Outcomes, 25-34.

Zhang, M., Lundeberg, M., & Eberhardt, J. (2011). Strategic Facilitation of Problem-Based Discussion for Teacher Professional Development. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 20(3), 342-394. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2011.553258

Constructionism and Epistemology

By Judi Fusco and Angie Kalthoff

Book Club Advert

In our book club, a question came up that is important. Where’s the epistemology in constructionism? Constructing something doesn’t seem like epistemology. Is it? If you’re not in the book club, that’s okay, keep reading as we’re talking about the question that was asked and not the book.

First, great question — we should really think about it! Before we answer that question, let’s make sure we’re all in agreement of what epistemology is. It’s a tough word. There are many papers that spend a long time struggling with how to define it. Since this is a blog and not a class discussion where we can write on a whiteboard (physical or virtual) and really go back and forth, here’s a simple definition with elements that we think are good for starting this discussion. (Feel free to let us know if you think something should be added to it.)

Epistemology: the theory of knowledge, including how it is obtained, how it develops and changes, what it is, and how the knowledge is verified or justified

Whew, that’s a lot. It’s all about knowledge. What do you think?

The original question was about how does epistemology relate to constructionism? As constructionism starts with creating or building something, where’s the epistemology? In a creative act of building or making something, a person has to get the knowledge that is in their head into an artifact. Because of this, the creation of an artifact is an epistemological act. The creator demonstrates their understanding (knowledge) in the artifact. They also may be verifying it or justifying their knowledge. (Again, feel free to disagree or think with us here.)

For example, when making a Scratch Program, the creator may work for a long time on making sure that the size of a character (sprite) is correct, or that two characters have a certain size relationship between them, or that the program moves the character to the right place on the screen. The creator may plan before they create their artifact or act as a bricoleur.

bricoleur — a person figuring it out as they are doing it with “whatever” materials are there

Both approaches, planning and bricolage, are ways to create. Students approach Scratch programs in both of these ways. In both approaches, the creator may try and fail multiple times. There’s a lot to be learned when you try and fail. When you fail, but you want to succeed, you try something different. If you really like something you’ll keep trying and building up more knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. (Constructionism talks about the work being personally relevant, if it’s personally relevant, you probably like what you are doing and are invested in the act of improving it.) The process of trying and failing as you create is an epistemological act. If you try multiple times it continues to be an epistemological act. (We’ll discuss failing in a future post as it’s also a huge important topic!)

As your students begin to work through issues, think about how you can be supportive in this process of trying and failing. How can you create a culture that values failure in your classroom? When working with students who have questions about “the right answer,” one way is to help them to think in another way about the issue. At first, this is met with frustration from students. All they want to know, in that moment, is if their work is “right.”

Learning to work in this new way can be very challenging for both students and teachers. It’s hard not to give the “right answer.” If something is open-ended and doesn’t have one answer, for example when designing things, it can be easier to work in this new way because you can think through trade-offs with students. But it can still be hard not to point students in one direction when they are asking. It can also be hard to let students “fail.” Going back to the relationship with epistemology, students and teachers have a lot of experience in instructionist-style classrooms where teachers give the answer; moving to a constructionist style classroom takes time and practice. One of the things you have to learn to do is to hold back on giving the right answer. It can feel like you’re not doing your job, but you absolutely are. You will still guide, you will ask questions, but you won’t just tell them the answer.

After Creating the Artifact
After we have the object, another part of the process of constructionism occurs. People interact around the object. Last week, Judi wrote: A lot of people talk about constructionism as learning by doing, and it absolutely is, but while we create, we should also discuss, iterate, and learn (create new knowledge structures, or modify old ones in our heads). Setting up conditions so students can “make sense” and learn is so very important in constructionism.

To me (Judi), this part of constructionism is equally important as the creation part. It’s also an epistemological act. If you create, you will absolutely learn, but if you take time to hear what another person thinks about the object, what they think you got right and what you need to work on, that’s really magical. It can be really hard to get the conditions right where people will work together and give real, honest, informative feedback on something. This part of the process really requires that people trust each other, get into a shared intellectual space, and then think together.

How do we put constructionism into practice?
Reading more about constructionism gives me ideas about how to get this to happen in a classroom. Of course, there’s not just one thing I can point to say “this” is how you do it. It takes time to develop this in your classroom. The first time you try, it might not be so good. I always encourage people to start small, but with something meaningful and to keep reflecting on what is working or not. Don’t try and change your practice overnight. One important thing to remember as you try promote constructionist interactions and use this powerful learning method in your classroom, you need to trust your students and they need to trust you and their classmates. Constructionism came out of constructructivism; remember we are trying to get learners to construct their knowledge and understanding in the head and in the real world. Knowledge is complex, is constructed by the learner, and learning happens gradually. (One more thought about shared intellectual space, take a look at another recent blog post for more information about what that means; a shared mental space is so important in learning.)

More on Epistemology
Angie adds: I remember reading Mindstorms by Seymour Papert and first coming across the word epistemology. I was making notes and highlights and then I encountered the word epistemology. I dug deeper into this word and went online to see what else I could find. I hadn’t yet heard of this word and was trying to find meaning in the work I was doing as a Technology Integrationist. This was it! This was what I was trying to capture. Yes, I could see how technology, when used as a learning and creation tool, can really transform learning for students. But I was seeking the why. I knew there was more going on behind the scenes than just adding equipment. In fact, just adding technology doesn’t necessarily change the way learning occurs. The thought of epistemology, as a way that changes how we acquire knowledge, started me down the journey of computational thinking and coding in classrooms, as early as kindergarten. And here I am now, digging into as many things as I can find to help and share what is happening beyond using a tool.

Constructionism really is a way we can help students engage in meaning-making processes for themselves. The more we can help them do this, the more they learn. Epistemologically speaking, we’re not giving students “knowledge,” they are constructing it in in the world as objects to share with others and in their heads with the help of those artifacts, classmates, their teachers, parents, and others. We hope this helped with the question; we’d love to hear from you as discussion is so important in learning! As we listen to the book club entries, we’ll try to capture tips and suggestions and make another post about constructionism in the near future. If you have a question, or anything you think we should include or discuss, tweet #CIRCLEdu.

Constructionism (and Constructivism)

by Judi Fusco

This post was written during our book club, but the concepts in the post go beyond the book.

We’re going to discuss constructionism, not to be confused with constructivism; they are similar words and Papert’s constructionism grew out of Piaget’s constructivism.  We’ll talk more about Piaget’s constructivism (and Vygotsky’s social constructivism) in another post soon.

From our book club book, Coding as a Playground, I learned that Papert didn’t want to define constructionism rigidly. Marina Bers gives us some of the dimensions he discussed and some help thinking about it.

On page 21, she writes:

Seymour Papert refused to give a definition of constructionism.  In 1991, he wrote, “It would be particularly oxymoronic to convey the idea of constructionism through a definition since, after all, constructionism boils down to demanding that everything be understood by being constructed” (Paper, 1991). Respecting his wish, in my past writings I have always avoided providing a definition; however, I have presented four basic principles of constructionism that have served childhood education well (Bers, 2008):

  • Learning by designing personally meaningful projects to share in the community;
  • Using concrete objects to build and explore the world;
  • Identifying powerful ideas from the domain of study;
  • Engaging in self-reflection as part of the learning process.

Bers goes on to discuss how constructionism is in line with ideas about how important “learning by doing” is for young learners. In another paper, Karen Brennan (2015) also discusses how important it is to let learners to design, personalize, share, and reflect during the constructionist process. You can see those ideas in the principles Bers discussed.

Karen Brennan also writes “Constructionism is grounded in the belief that the most effective learning experiences grow out of the active construction of all types of things, particularly things that are personally or socially meaningful (Bruckman, 2006; Papert. 1980), that are developed through interactions with others as audience, collaborators, and coaches (Papert, 1980; Rogoff, 1994), and that support thinking about one’s own thinking (Kolodner et al., 2003; Papert, 1980).”



Papert’s Paper Airplane: construction(ism) plus sharing the creation to discuss it with others, to think about what’s important and not important, and then working alone or with others to make the creation better.

I’m going to digress a little from thinking about elements of constructionism and give a little background on constructionism and constructivism. Papert was the father of constructionism and he worked with Jean Piaget, the genetic epistemologist who developed theories of constructivism to help us understand how young children acquire knowledge (sidebar: genetic epistemologist = genesis or beginning, epistemology = theory of knowledge). Bers tells us how constructionism is a play on and tribute to constructivism. constructivism and constructionism are two terms that have caused much confusion in many folks. A few years back, my graduate students and I came up with a mnemonic to help them remember who developed the different ideas, and what constructionism and constructivism mean.

The mnemonic: Papert, his last name looks like “paper” with a t and you can construct a paper airplane because you like to make them. (You don’t constructivize them, you do construction to make them.)

You can share that paper airplane with your friends and they can give you feedback on the design of the airplane, you can talk about it, you can improve on it, and then you should refine it. Through this act of construction, some might call it constructionism, you learn because you make something you like, share it, discuss it, reflect on it, and continue to improve it.  (You might have to use another sheet of paper, though.)


Piaget’s constructivism is all about what is happening in the mind: If you put an m (for mind) on top of a v (for constructivism) you can see how much we love constructivism.

Piaget’s constructivism is a theory about what happens in the mind as you actively create structures in the mind. Here’s the mnemonic: if you put an m (for mind) on top of a v (for constructivism) you can see how much we love constructivism. (Work with us here, it’s a mnemonic — also, there’s a v in love, too.)  (See picture.)

Piaget’s constructivism is all about what is happening in the mind, whereas constructionism is really a helpful process for learners to think about something specific together. Of course, when we have learners work together, create, and build, we also hope they add new things to their minds (constructivism); the two should absolutely go together. A lot of people talk about constructionism as learning by doing, and it absolutely is, but while we create, we should also discuss, iterate, and learn (create new knowledge structures, or modify old ones in our heads). I constructed this blog post to help us have something to talk about. Please join me and discuss so we can learn more together.

The perfect place to discuss is In our Book Club on Coding as a Playground, talk to about this post or even better, we’d love for you to share your real life examples of constructionism in classrooms as you work with students to help them learn to code or to think computationally. I’d love to know how you think about these terms and how you get your learners to design, personalize, share, and reflect on important parts of the work they are doing for their learning in your classroom! Tweet #CIRCLEdu or come share in the Book Club!

Resources

If you’d like to know more about Constructivism and Constructionism see:

http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/blog/science-teacher’s-take-constructivism-constructionism

http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/blog/constructivist-science

http://fablearn.stanford.edu/fellows/blog/constructionism-learning-theory-and-model-maker-education

Reference: Brennan, K. (2015). Beyond Technocentrism. Constructivist Foundations, 10(3).

Get ready for the CIRCL Educators’ Book Club!

Book Club Advert

CIRCL Educators’ Blog is written by a small group of educators from across the nation who collaborate and think together about issues related to learning and technology. We share research, resources, and best practices. We have so much fun as we learn together that we decided we should open up the space and see who else would like to participate in the learning fun.

Our goal is to discuss a few books as a book club in 2019. Our first book will be Coding as a Playground, inspired by the Infosys Pathfinders Institute. The book club will start on 1/13/12019. To discuss our first book, we will use Flipgrid. Flipgrid is a video discussion platform that is used in classrooms and universities. If you haven’t used Flipgrid, we’ll help! It’s a platform used by a lot of teachers in their classrooms and most find it pretty easy to use. When you visit the CIRCL Educators’ bookclub site on January 13th, you will be able to click a green “+” to add a Flipgrid response. After you click the green “+” you will be prompted to share your reflection. Flipgrid will walk you through how to make your response post. There is no password or code needed!

We will also use Twitter to discuss conversations! Follow our Twitter account @CIRCLEducators and use the hashtag #circledu to share your thoughts!

The book club will have two questions each week and we encourage you to share your thoughts and interact with other members of the book club on Flipgrid! If you are new to Flipgrid, see an overview and a video showing how educators use Flipgrid in their classrooms.

As a way to show our appreciation for your participation, we will be giving away a free book for our next book club! In order to qualify for the drawing, you must participate in the discussion on Flipgrid each week! (While we love twitter, we are afraid it will be difficult to make sure we find all tweets for the drawing.) In addition, if you do participate in Flipgrid each week, you will receive a certificate of participation from CIRCL Educators.

Sign-up for notifications about when the book club is starting and to get the questions each for the book club.

About the Book:

Coding as a Playground is the first book to focus on how young children (ages 7 and under) can engage in computational thinking and be taught to become computer programmers, a process that can increase both their cognitive and social -emotional skills. Readers will learn how coding can engage children as producers-and not merely consumers of technology in a playful way. You will come away from this groundbreaking work with an understanding of how coding promotes developmentally appropriate experiences such as problem-solving, imagination, cognitive challenges, social interactions, motor skills, development, emotional exploration, and making different choices. You will also learn how to integrate coding into different curricular areas to promote literacy, math, science, engineering, and the arts through a project-based approach.

About the Author:

Marina Umaschi Bers is a professor in the Eliot-Pearson of Child Study and Human Development and an adjunct professor in the Computer Science Department at Tufts University. She heads the Developmental Technologies Research group where she studies innovative ways to promote positive childhood development through new learning technologies. Marina co-developed the Scratch Jr programming language in collaboration with Mitch Resnick from the MIT Media Lab and Paula Bonta from the PICO company. She is also the creator of KIBO, a robotics platform for children 4 to 7 that can be programmed with wooden blocks (no screen needed), which allows young builders to learn programming and engineering while integrating arts and crafts.

*The information about the book and author is quoted from the book Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom.

Learning Something New

By Judi Fusco

TLDR: When you really don’t want to do something, having a friend help you learn can make all the difference. Emotions and learning drive the learning process.

Today’s post, is a reflection piece. I usually ground everything I write in research, but I have so much swirling in my head based on a lot of reading, and on an experience I had while learning something new.

Have you ever said something like, “Nope, no way am I ever going to do _______.”?

I said it repeatedly, and over the course of many months, to a person. She was persistent and kept asking me to learn this new thing for at least 6 months. I said no a lot, however, wait for it…. now I am doing it.

Why am I doing it?  Because the person who asked me (repeatedly) to do it means a lot to me. She wanted me to learn something new–that new something was out of my usual area of interest and something I never saw myself doing. Two strikes against her and the new thing, but somehow she got me to try it, helped me until I felt comfortable on my own, and now, almost 6 months later she is still my mentor and helps me understand more. She comes and talks to me about it and we work on it together so that I can learn more. We also have a lot of fun doing it. This post is a reflection on how this person got me to do _______. (I will discuss what I learned a little later in this post. First, I want to discuss the learning process.)

I see similarities in what my “coach” did and what instructional coaches do to motivate teachers to incorporate new technologies and pedagogies into their classrooms. When I talk with teachers who are being coached as they integrate technology or some new teaching method into their classroom, I hear many things about relationships between them and their coaches. Where we see coaches having success in getting teachers to try new things and make changes in their classroom, we usually also see strong relationships between the coach and the teacher with trust, respect, and sometimes friendships (not required). We see the coach supporting the person until their own interest develops and their identity changes. This is similar to what I experienced. Honestly, my relationship is the only reason why I was willing to even think about learning the new thing. My coach was patient and persistent when I was resistant. She encouraged and motivated me.

Relationships and emotions are an important part of learning, and for the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking about them more. I recently read the new brief on how emotions and relationships drive learning by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Linda Darling-Hammond. While the brief is written about children, emotions and relationships are very important in the learning process for adults, too.

Relationships bring so many things to the learning process. A relationship that helps support the learning process includes at least trust, respect, and motivation. For me, I definitely needed that motivational piece as I learned. Trust and respect are essential, but not enough when learning something new takes a lot of time and effort. A trusted coach helping with every step of the journey and giving that motivation can really make a difference. (Note, the journey can be longer or shorter depending on the person being helped, their interest, and the new thing being learned.)

I imagine that most people don’t really invest in learning something that they don’t like at all. For me, I didn’t want to do _______.  What is ___________ you may ask? It’s Pokémon GO. There’s a lot to learn as you play. There are strategies involved. There are lots of rules and tricks. Also, remember, I didn’t want to play it at all. I didn’t know anything about it and I wanted to keep it that way. I thought it was a useless waste of time. But I liked the person who asked me and she took the time to show me what I needed to know.  “She” was my 12 (now 13) year old daughter. She was asking me to hang out, and if a tweenager wants to hang, you should do it! However, despite the fact that I wanted the opportunity to spend time with her, I still didn’t want to learn the game.

As I mentioned before, playing this game was big identity change for me. Part of my identity is that I don’t play games. I imagine that teachers who aren’t interested in using technology in their classes or don’t see themselves as technology people also go through a similar identity change as they start using technology. (I’ll explore more about interest, identity, and learning in the near future, in another post.) Here, I really want to stress that without my relationship, I wouldn’t have learned. My coach took the time to show me what I needed to know. She answered all my questions and she never made me feel bad for my questions. I wouldn’t have ever been interested, much less chosen to learn on my own. I needed her to provide external motivation for me. In fact, in the beginning, I needed so much that she was kind of dragging me along in the learning process.

As teachers, we try to help students with this kind of support, but we may not get it ourselves. With a coach, the odds increase for this kind of support. Making changes in a teaching practice is difficult because a teaching practice affects other people, students and future students. Most teachers are cautious about wanting to make a change to something that generally works in practice because of all of the people who depend on it. That’s where a colleague or a coach can really help. There are times when a teacher is so interested in making the change that they can do it on their own, but most of the time, it’s so much easier to make a change with the help of someone else.

In this post, I’ve been thinking a lot about teachers and changes in practices, but I think we could insert any age learner in a scenario of making a change that they aren’t interested in making. Relationships strengthen the learning process at any age and are something we should think more about in the learning process. What do you think about the importance of relationships in learning? I’d also love to hear about changes you’ve made to your practice. How’d you do it? Did you have support or did you do it on your own? Have you ever had an instructional coach? Would you want an instructional coach?  Are you an instructional coach? We’d love to hear from you — Tweet to @CIRCLEducators or use #CIRCLEdu.

And now for something completely different

Real life meets Geometry class…
A few months ago, my students (Sarah Hampton here) were able to design and build a parking lot for our school. In their own words, here’s how it happened.  This blog post was written by them.

Parking Lot: What’s the problem?
We have a huge real world problem that our geometry class can solve! Our school’s upper field parking area is somewhat of a mess. There are no instructions as to where parking is permitted, so, as a result, many drivers claim more parking space than needed and don’t leave any space for other drivers. This leads to a traffic jam, causing a slower and confusing flow of traffic. In addition, because of this catastrophe, many drivers are forced to drive on the running track in order to exit the area, thus damaging the surface and placing pedestrians at risk for being injured.

In order to address these problems, Mr. Mark Hill, the Head of the Building and Grounds Committee, tasked our Geometry class to design a parking lot. We had to fulfill the needs of a counterclockwise flow of traffic, follow local regulations, and maximize the number of parking spaces, all while making safety our number one priority. This fell into a two part project, first, we designed a blueprint for the parking lot, and secondly, we laid out the actual parking lot.

Our small class was divided into two teams: a team of the three girls and one of the four boys. To get to the best solution, the teams competed on making the best and most effective design possible. After working hard, both teams presented a pitch to three judges, Mrs. Hampton, our geometry teacher, Mr. Hill, the Head of Building and Grounds and a civil engineer, and Mr. Vermillion, our Head of School. As the pitch started, Mr. Hill set the tone for the students saying “Let me tell you this; this project is as real-world as it gets. If you were an engineering consulting firm, you would be doing the same thing right now. You would prepare a preliminary solution to the problem and “pitch” that to the project owners. In this case, that’s Sullins Academy. If we liked your design, we’d hire you to do the work. As students, you may get to see your design actually implemented, which will be a tangible reminder of your time here whenever you go up to the field.”

The three judges came to a conclusion that there were positive elements in both teams’ designs. As a result, there was a draw and Mr. Hill made a new blueprint combining ideas of both teams. On a cool day, the class went up to the track to start marking the parking lot. We built a curb stop template and an angled line template and took all of our other supplies: string, stakes, measuring tapes, a speed square, and a few sharpies. Then we measured out the correct angle and distances for each parking spot, which used our knowledge in geometry and basic math to figure out where to put everything.
         
Throughout this project, we learned how to use an engineer scale, create a blueprint, and include trigonometry in real life situations. Most importantly, we learned the significance of proportionality in similar figures. In the end, we realized how much work and math really go into constructing a parking lot!

We are ready for the 2018 STEM for All NSF Video Showcase

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Over here at CIRCLEducators, we’re excited for the 2018 STEM for All NSF Video showcase http://stemforall2018.videohall.comThe showcase is May 14-21 and there will be over 200 very short (3-minute) videos.

Last year, we had one CIRCLEducator as a facilitator.  This year, we’re thrilled that 3 CIRCLEducators will be facilitators at the event. If you can, come join us and give your thoughts on the NSF projects. We need educators in the conversations about the projects.  The showcase is a great way to get new ideas, learn about new projects, and meet others who are passionate about STEM education and learning. If you want to know more, read a post from last year when Sarah Hampton wrote about it and called it an “education wonderland!” 

So what do you have to do?  Just head over to the site and watch some videos.  

You can also sign up to leave comments and vote so you can add your voice and thoughts.  

You can see our other posts about the video showcase from previous years here.  Stay tuned for our thoughts about exciting projects after the showcase.