With the advertisement of maker-this and maker-that, there are a flood of products claiming to be the “next big thing” you need in your makerspace. I’ve tried some things I love, somethings I thought fell short, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas, new gadgets, and new ways to use old things.
1.) USE: Is this tool versatile? Can it be used in an open ended way?
2.) GROWTH: Can this tool grow with the students?
3.) CHALLENGE: Is it going to offer hard fun? Is it a challenge?
4.) STUDENT-DRIVEN: Is it going to offer a fully student-driven experience? Or will it require a teacher to be in charge of it always?
5.) SOFTWARE/APP: Does it work with only one type of software or app? Does that app allow for open creation?
6.) CURRICULUM: Can it’s use be tied into existing curriculum for classroom experiences?
7.) QUALITY: Rechargeable? Sturdy? Is it going to hold up with multiple uses and a variety of kids tinkering with it or is it easy for kids to create with it?
I’m always looking at products and mentally scoring them… looking for a yes to the questions above. According to my questions, a hammer is a 7-star item! On the other hand, a set of robotic cubes I was SUPER excited about turned out to be so limited, they rarely left the shelf. Looking at the questions? It’s a 2-star (2 yes answers only). That doesn’t mean the product wasn’t fun, but it means it’s not fun for very long… or challenging. I know making is NOT about the stuff, but the stuff we stock our spaces with should stoke the fires of creativity.
It’s so important that you KNOW your students on a personal level, because their questions and creative ideas will guide what’s needed in the learning space. The kids favorite things in our space continue to be the found materials like cardboard, beads, pipe cleaners, and cardboard tubes. If several years ago, someone offered me a choice between a box of cardboard tubes or robotic cubes, I would have laughed and grabbed the cubes. Now I’m not so sure. Slowing down and thinking about how materials are used can help guide us to make the right choices, and in the end, make the best space possible for our students.
Saving files. Closing windows. Sharing a link. Updating a profile. I could name a gazillion (probably not a real number) technology skills that I think are important. But there is one… one that is more important than the rest…
In our click happy share fast world, it could be slowing down that matters more than anything. Taking time to think. Look. Think deep and critically…
What tool do I want to use?
What tool might be best for this?
Where did this information come from? Is it reliable?
How will I share this?
How might I troubleshoot?
Technology moves far too fast to know every detail. That’s what’s changed. In a society that moves quickly, we have to find ways to slow down, be in the moment, and process what’s happening on the screen, in the device, or in the conversation around us. People love to say that our kids are different – for their world is different than ours was. The truth is, we have to adjust AND be ready to help guide them. It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s going to be all about our ability to slow down, process, and deeply understand. To get out of their way.
But it’s the reason I believe in the deepest part of my soul, that making is the future of education. Entrepreneurial-ship. Ideas that change our world. Connecting with each other. Being a community. Thinking deep about improving something, then doing it. Helping our kids be WHATEVER they dream of and DREAMING big. Because when we use technology that’s one thing. But when we create with technology, and add in tangible, hands on materials? It’s us slowing down, and somehow in the midst we become the kind of learning environment that kids need, simultaneously becoming the kind of learning environment our kids need. Because we are all learners.
Several years ago, I was in the midst of a hard year of teaching. I had also, around the same time, discovered the power in connecting with other educators through social media. I was on a mission to notice the good. I started a photo project called #edugood. A small group of us took a photo a day of something positive and shared it. Some days it’s easy, others? It’s harder. Our classrooms, hallways, and schools are filled with so much good. The more we share it, the better for us all.
Enter Michael Buist.. who sent me a state license place with EDUGOOD on it. To this day, it’s in my office. I don’t know how in the world I’ve never met Michael in person– I mean, he’s one of the most positive folks EVER and he’s a maker creator du’jour with his students. But he’s had a positive impact on me and my teaching in so many ways.
I think I’ve come full circle when it comes to connecting online. I’m in a great place. I see tons of good every single day. Should I stop sharing it? Nope. Because there is a teacher somewhere who was that teacher I was a few years ago, in the midst of a challenging year. The truth is, we ALL need each other. We need people to support us, challenge us, listen to our crazy ideas. I count my blessings everyday that I have colleagues in my hall who “get” me and I would do anything to help them.
Speaking of good things…. Michael just beat cancer. (Michael I hope you don’t mind me shouting out for your success, but seriously, nothing’s more #edugood than YOU!) So for someone who helped ME see the good in everyday a few years ago when I just needed it, I’m sending out an international call for help to share the #edugood in YOUR day. For Michael’s success in his journey. For the teacher down the hall. For the colleague who needs it. For yourself. For our kids.
Our students all over the world deserve our very best selves and we need to do everything we can to be our very best selves. And the days we feel like we can’t carry on with our best, we can lean on each other. One hug, one tweet, one positive message on Instagram, one secret good deed that only you know about?
When I think about teaching empathy in the elementary classroom, I like to think about tools that will help support kids in their understanding of the entire concept of empathy. I’ve been exploring Stanford’s empathy maps and really like the idea of kids taking an empathy walk as they explore one’s story.
Imagine a suitcase filled with items. Students unpack the suitcase and use the clues to learn about the owner. The suitcase could include items to help build a character profile: a letter from the suitcase owner to a friend, a set of postcards to be mailed, a favorite snack, an itinerary for a vacation… maybe the suitcase could even be a favorite book character’s suitcase. In thinking about seeing a situation through another’s lens… empathy. While we try to help support kids in understanding thoughts and feelings, we have to start with simple, concrete examples like “What does he or she see?” or “What does does he or she hear?”
“Unpacking the suitcase” is really about unpacking a person’s (or animal’s) story. There is always more there than just the suitcase. Every ding, scratch, and mark on the case means something. Every compartment inside contains something meaningful. Through the power of observation, students can learn to look at people through a set of lenses, but it takes practice. Often we just watch someone, and immediately decide what the story is. Empathy slows us down to make sure we connect before we make any assumptions. I made a set of cards (PDF here) to put on a ring so that kids could have prompts to help them think and process. These are version 1 and I’m sure I’ll make changes as this story unfolds.
Has technology made us too quick to judge? Or is that just us being human? Either way, empathy is a skill our kids need. Today, tomorrow, and in the future.