Review of Invent to Learn Chapter One Part Two

“The phrase, “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way”
– Seymour Papert (1972, as quoted on p. 19)

In my initial post, which began this series, I wrote about the introduction to Libow Martinez and Stager’s book Invent to Learn, where they gave us a brief overview of the maker movement and its place in society today. In the previous article in this series, looking at the first part of chapter one, we were given an overview of the historical origins of the maker movement and its pedagogical relationships with some of the giants of eduction including Piaget, Montessori and Dewey. This article will move through the remainder of chapter one, bringing us up to more recent times.

Technology often comes across in the media and policy speeches as being some sort of panacea for education, as though decades of low-investment in schools and teachers can be ‘fixed’ by giving students with only a few years left of their schooling a laptop as was the case during the Australian Digital Eduction Revolution. Seymour Papert’s quote above is something that the authors called “…revolutionary for 1968, but sadly remains a perceptive critique of schooling today” (p.19).

While technology can be an amazing enabler of creativity and critical thinking, it can only be such if it is utilised in a way that empowers students to be creative and critical thinkers. The current boom in the use of coding in schools, being labelled as a foundation skills that is as important as mathematics and reading only six months ago an article in The Age newspaper is rather late, considering that Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon published a paper in 1971 entitled Twenty Things to Do with a Computer that included coding, mechatronics, mathematical modelling and a range of other, then highly advanced learning activities that would by highly multi-disciplinary. The article also included a case for 1:1 computing, which has also taken eduction by storm as a seemingly new idea in the last decade.

Papert’s contention in 1972 was that the newly popular concept of gamification; specifically, game design, would be a powerful way of teaching children mathematical concepts. In 1996, Papert wrote that John Dewey’s argument for a move away from authoritarian classrooms was now more epistemologically accessible due to computers, and that the ultimate pressure for change in the structure of classrooms will come from children themselves. The potential for technology to change how students learn concepts across the sciences, mathematics, literacy and the creative arts is monumental, but the thinking about learning needs to catch up. Papert likens the great educational thinkers such as Dewey, Montessori and Vygotskys, to name but a few, to Leonardo DaVinci. The ideas are new and exciting and powerful, however there is not the infrastructure in which to properly implement the ideas.

The authors wrote that the Sputnik crisis created an environment where investment in hands-on science and mathematics was politically and socially popular, as were creative arts programs in schools and this led to less coercive schooling, with greater emphasis placed on individuality. It was, however, during the early 1960s in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia that making first became entrenched in an educational context. The community had been ravaged during World War Two and the decision was made to invest heavily in the rebuilding of the city with a long-term plan; the education of its youngest. The Regio Emilia Approach is the result of those years where the town’s infant and toddler care centres were built and run around the philosophies of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky and others, placing the child at the centre of the learning process.

From the Reggio Emilia Early learning (Australia) website:

“It’s only natural that children who are regarded in a warm and positive light will always succeed at a higher level than those who are judged in a limited or negative way.
The Reggio Emilia approach is to co-construct the curriculum with the children and their families to stimulate a free and open-sourced style of learning.
The approach encourages both children and teachers to brainstorm and discuss topics of interest. Children are encouraged to develop skills in problem solving, hypothesising, critical reflection and collaboration. They will be asked to document their ideas, knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways.”

Libow Martinez and Stager write that the teacher’s primary role in this learning context is a researcher tasked with preparing a learning environment suitable for a child based upon an understanding of that child’s thinking and interests. Vastly different from the role of a traditional teacher. There is now around fifty years worth of documentation and research on the Reggio Emilia Approach, and the authors contend that it “…may represent the world’s most mature model of sustained constructionism and progressive education” (p.23).

It is the advent of microcomputing that heralded the next large step forward for progressive education, with Neil Gershenfeld predicting that the next technological revolution would be one wherein users would make the tools they needed to solve their problems, something is now happening thanks to the growing use of Three-Dimensional Printers in school, industry and at home (p.24). This is leading to a situation where students are now being seen as inventors, teachers and collaborators with the driving force being mutual need, interest and style (p. 25). Thinking this through cause something of an “A-ha!” moment for me, as I connected the dots between the Reggio Emilia Approach, making and the Gershenfeld’s prediction, I realised that what we call self-directed learning is very often not that at all. It is in actuality, Teacher-led, but with less teacher involvement in the doing.

This has profound implications for teachers, as there is also a growing body of literature to help guide and inspire adults ‘in charge’ of children’s learning to incorporate making in their pedagogical practice, such as Make magazineHowtoons, Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) and 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer (and Other Discarded Electronics). Materials are also becoming cheaper and easier to access, including MakeDo, Suguru, MakeyMakey and a range of others, beyond the household items like empty boxes, bed sheets, cushions and lego.

All of these factors are coming together  to create an environment ripe for children to be the creators of the learning, as evidenced in Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show series of Youtube videos.

Libow Martinez and Sager write that it was in the late 1960s when Papert asked whether it was the computer programming the child or the child programming the computer, and it is now in the early twenty-first century that we have reached a point where it is now relatively easy for any child to access the equipment and information required for them to program a computer. Indeed, it is now becoming common for coding to be a part of a school curriculum, a movement that is becoming stronger, seemingly unchecked.

I would very much like to hear what my readers think about making in general, and making in the school context in specific. Thank you, as always, for reading, and stay tuned for Chapter Two, which will appear next Tuesday afternoon.

Review of Invent to Learn – Chapter One Part One

I do not think there is nay thrill that can go through the human hear like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. Such emotions make a forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”
– Nikola Tesla, quoted on p. 11 of Invent to Learn

Martinez and Stager’s first chapter in Invent to Learn is interestingly titled An Insanely Brief and Incomplete History of Making and begins with the above quote from Nikola Tesla. The chapter provides an overview of the historical figures who have played a part in making and tinkering and some of the trends that have been felt through the various ebbs and flows of making over the course of history. There are links made to education, of course, and it is interesting to read some of the historical links between education and making, particularly in the twentieth century with the advent of ‘toys’ like Lincoln Logs and, eventually, Lego.

The first sentence in the chapter is at first glance a bold one; “[m]aking things, and then making those things better is at the core of humanity.” When you stop and take a moment to think about it, it is one of the defining characteristics of our species, is that there has always been an element of curiosity which drives the iterative creative process of inventing and making. It is interesting, I think, that in many stories of other societies, that curiosity-driven innovation and making is one of the characteristics which is consistently absent, though often shown in varying formats. Examples abound of this, including Wizarding society in the Harry Potter saga, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and from a certain perspective, the Elves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga.

Retrieved from 3/11/15

Marinez and Stager write that there is a historical acceptance at the core of humanity that direct experience with skills and concepts is where learning occurs at its best, or to phrase it another way, learning by doing is historically accepted as the best way to learn. It is their contention that the maker movement represents “…our best hope for reigniting progressive education” (p.11). The first example that is held up, is someone posited to be the greatest maker in our history, a statement which I would agree with, as I can think of no person more prolific and masterful in such a vast array of disciplines, as Leonardo Da Vinci. The authors moved on from Da Vinci to discuss some of what they termed, the unsung heroes of making.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 publication of Emile, or On Education, is held up  as an early discussion of the natural abilities of the child and the need for free development. There has been substantial criticism levelled against the treatise, however, not having read it, I cannot comment either way. Following on from Rousseau was Johann Pestalozzi, who held to the belief that not only was learning a natural occurrence, but that it was necessary for learning to be balanced between the heart, the head and the hand, best achieved by first-hand experience. Our understanding of Kindergarten, it seems, was developed by Friedrich Froebel, who in turn was influenced by Pestalozzi when he studied under him. Froebel leaned heavily upon learning by doing in his kindergarten design, and these ideas were also taken up by Maria Montessori.

Many of the ideas of some who are held up as giants in educational history, John Dewey, Montessori, Froebel and Pestalozzi were formalised and confirmed by Jean Piaget, who’s publication To Understand is to Invent strongly advocated for learning by doing, a theory of learning which became constructivism. Constructvism holds many strong and clear links to both Froebel and Pestalozzi’s ideas. Piaget took this a step further, and championed the idea of teachers as polymaths, as they would hold the skills and knowledge to enable their students to become polymaths, à la Leonardo Da Vinci, perhaps.

Retrieved from 3/11/15

Piaget believed that abstract or theoretical concepts and ideas, which students often struggled with, were both solved and understood with a different attitude when presented in a concrete situation, related to either a student interest, or another concept with which the student is familiar. Piaget extended this by indicating that instead of introducing a skill or concept with the pre-organised vocabulary needed to understand the learning focus, that instead, teachers should provide a learning environment appropriately grounded in action within which the real action will lead to the need for and easier integration of the specific vocabulary. I can understand Piagets concept here, I believe. Having the need and the context for particularly vocabulary components allows for an immediate integration of those components as there is a frame of reference and need for them to be integrated, rather than them being abstract terms with no meaning.

Martinez and Stager moved on at this point and examined John Dewey’s relationship with education and making. Dewey’s belied was that learning, or the education process, was a lifetime process of growth driven from personal motivation. Dewey strongly advocated for authentic and inter-disciplinary grounded in reality using an iterative design methodology. Dewey held the belief that the standards of adults should be subordinated to the needs of children.

The concept of using careful observation and  and previous experience in learning is not new, and were necessary for early humans in order to hunt, fish, grow crops and build shelters and housing. It is pointed out that things reached a point in the seventeenth century where ‘gentleman amateurs’ were a significant component of the scientific community, and that amateur scientists contributed much to our bank of knowledge over the years through the connection between ideas, people and disciplines. It is this connection which is foundational to today’s maker movement, made simpler than in previous generations through the use of computers and the internet.Martinez and Stager report the words of Norm Stanley at the First Annual Citizen Science Conference in June 2002:

“Science, as we know it today, would not be what it is without the contributions of amateurs. In fact I think it not too brash a statement to assert that basic science and what we know as the scientific method was largely developed by amateurs. From alchemists in search of the Philosophers’ Stone to monks investigating Nature in pea gardens to the gentlemen amateurs of the seventeenth century on, they were developing the experimental/observational/hypothetical approach of modern science. True, with the passage of time the role of the amateur, working independently, has diminished as experimental techniques became highly sophisticated and string and sealing wax no longer sufficed for doing cutting-edge science. Despite vicissitudes, amateur or recreational science remains healthy today, as witness the present gathering.”
-Norm Stanley, p. 15 of Invent to Learn. Full text of speech available here.

Stanley’s full speech talks about way in which it was quite common for children to conduct their own experiments using the then-popular chemistry kits, and Martinez and Stager comment that these home chemistry labs captured the imagination for around two hundred years until “…ninnies suddenly determined that fire, chemistry and fun were just too dangerous for young people” (p.15). From these chemistry labs, it was the introduction of Lincoln Logs, Constructor Kits, Meccano and Lego that allow model-making from users’ imaginations, and that toys of this ilk are now capable of making the real thing, in many cases, as demonstrated in the below video.

It was the self-proclaimed hackers of The Tech Modern Railroad Club (TMRC) in the late 1950s and the essential belief that taking things apart, understanding how they function and then creating new and more interesting things from this knowledge is perhaps the first recognizable maker movement, in the terms of which we would understand it today, and is echoed in the motto of the maker movement; “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it” (p.17).

The maker movement is something that I can see value in, and I certainly agree with the general principle of learning by doing. Implementing this in schools, where teachers, for better or worse, ware required to teach specific content and students are required to sit specific standardised tests, with funding and public perception of the quality of education and teachers riding in large part on those tests, makes it challenging to sell the concept to many school leaders, particularly given the increasing amount of litigation that seems to be occurring. I distinctly remember in Year Six, reading The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch and us having to design, and create an alternative method of getting lunch to the lighthouse keeper. We were engaged, learning, problem solving, thinking creatively and critically, failing and then analysing why we failed…it was such a rich environment, but I cannot recall the last time I have seen something similar. The safety concerns (litigation fears) make it difficult, but it is a barrier that should be overcome as it has such rich scope for learning.

I thank you for reading through Part One of my Review of the first chapter of Invent to Learn. The next article will be be published next Tuesday, and will begin with Martinez and Stager’s introduction of Seymour Papert.

Review of Invent to Learn Part One: Introduction

“Playrooms and games, animals and plants, wood and nails must take their place side-by-side with books and words.”
– Angelo Patri, A Schoolmaster of the Great CIty, 1917

Recently I wrote about the lack of personal reading that I had been doing in general, both for enjoyment and for professional development and committed to rectifying, at least, the reading for professional development aspect. I decided that I would begin with reading Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez (@smartinez) and Gary Stager (@garystager). I was fortunate enough to hear Gary speak at FutureSchools in March of this year and was able to purchase a copy of the book, which Gary kindly signed.

I began reading it on the train home that evening, and was both challenged and inspired, but promptly got busy, with the remainder of FutureSchools, preparing for my current position which I had been offered whilst attending FutureSchools, and failed to return to reading the book, which brings back to this article. Having committed to reading a chapter of a book each week for professional development purposes, I decided to start with Sylvia and Gary’s book. All quote within this article have been sourced from this book, unless otherwise referenced.

Angelo Patri’s quote, which I have included at the top of this article, encapsulates, I believe, the general sentiment behind the Maker movement while providing a relevant opener for the book’s Introduction. Sylvia and Gary provide a very general summary of the history of learning vis-a-vis the Maker movement by pointing out that play and experience is prized, both within Angelo Patri’s opening quote, and as the work of childhood. Think to your Facebook wall, and how many videos of your friend’s or family member’s young children have been posted celebrating milestones such as first steps, or even just general play and exploration, and the celebration we and those children exhibit when something new has been accomplished.

They write that the cessation of learning centres  where students were able to become lost in the flow of learning something in depth is a relatively recent occurrence, describing how it teachers were regarded as polymaths for whom becoming a teacher implied that playing the piano, making puppets and mathematics manipulative objects out of household items were as much a part of mastering the craft of teaching as learning to teach reading, physical education and science.

Screenshot from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

Sylvia and Gary write that it has “…been a dark time for many schools in the last few decades,” and they provide some examples to demonstrate this:

  • the recent focus on standardised testing and teaching to the test,
  • the de-professionalisation of teachers,
  • the over-focused spotlight on data and
  • the reduction or removal of teachers’ ability to exercise their expertise in making judgements about how, what and when to teach.

Further to this, Gary is not shy about speaking his mind on Twitter, and has expounded his views on educational commercialism on twitter on occasion, denouncing the rise of the empires of educational corporations selling textbooks, tests and learning management systems (LMS). Not only does this take education further afield from Angel Petri’s opening quote, it also removes education from John Dewey’s vision of education; “give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results” (Dewey, Democracy and education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, 1916)

It is this move towards a commercial ‘EduEmpire’  that has created what Sylvia and Gary see (or rather, my understanding of what they see) as a dark time in education as it has led to the creation of classrooms that are increasingly empty of on-going exploratory play with rich materials and deep learning via doing.

It is the embedded nature of technology and computer processors as a result of miniaturisation and the resultant change with the way we interact with our tools that has created a situation wherein the Maker movement has been able to thrive. This change in the way technology is available along with the now ready access to cheap tools and materials has resulted in an ease of access and shareability of ideas, designs, and reduced the barriers to engaging with making and tinkering. The authors point out that it is through direct experience, touching and playing with materials that children have their first learning experiences and the Maker movement naturally overlaps with our nature of learning by doing.

School regularly compartmentalises, unnaturally, the learning areas into discrete subjects learned in isolation within the context of that learning moment, despite that not being how learning or the application of learning occurs outside of school. It is pointed out that there is an overlap outside of the school between the hard and soft sciences; architects and craftspeople deal with aesthetics, tradition and mathematical precision. Lewis Carroll, of Alice in Wonderland fame was also, under his birth name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an accomplished mathematician. This sentiment of the overlapping nature of the various disciplines is captured neatly in this quote:

“…it obliterates the distinction between vocational and academic education. When the same hardware and process skills are required in the physics lab as the art studio as the auto shop, schools need to no longer sort students into imaginary tracks for jobs that no longer follow those arbitrary rules.”
– p.3

They go on to discuss that now, with the ability to provide tools, materials and contexts, there are multiple pathways to learning those skills and concepts and pieces of knowledge which we have always taught, some of which were unimaginable until only recently. Active learning places students at the centre of the learning process, and tinkering and making are active and engaging ways of learning by doing. I was involved in a chat on twitter recently about power in schools and giving power and agency to students and this image was shared with the chat:

Retrieved from on 19 October 2015.

It fits, I feel, nicely with the general sentiment. Children often (not always, it must be noted) learn best when they do that which they are supposed to be learning. I do need to note that whilst I can absolutely see the value in tinkering and making and coding, I am not convinced that we should be putting the level of emphasis on coding that I seem to hear about. They are all powerful tools in and of themselves, but the questions that we should be asking about using technology or any other tool, for that matter) within the class apply here as well.

  1. Why does this tool suit the learning I want for my students in this context?
  2. How does this support my students’ learning?
  3. How does this support my teaching?

This is a theme I have heard before, when Paul Hamilton discussed using augmented reality in the classroom at Future Schools. He commented that as teachers, we are creators and designers of learning and that when we design a learning experience around an app, that we negate all of our training. A builder would never design a dream house based upon a new tool s/he has just bought, it would be designed around being an amazing house, and let the tools sort themselves out later.

The line between the utopia of learn by doing all of the time and the need to teach the curriculum is one that needs to be carefully balanced by individual teachers, policy makers and school leaders. I certainly do not profess to be an example of what it should look like, I am very much aware that I am still learning my craft as a teacher, particularly as I am working in an RFF capacity at the moment and thus do not have the day to day consistency of the group of students and am very much subject to the vagaries of timetable interruptions. But I am learning and, I believe, improving. This concept is a challenging one, and even if a Maker space does not eventuate in my school, I can see myself embedding the principles of Making in my teaching style.

As always, please leave comments or questions about what I have written in the comments section. The Maker movement is something that is still in its infancy in the school-context, here in Australia at least, and I am very much curious about others’ thoughts on the topic.

The Hundred Languages

Ordinarily, Monday afternoon is the day that I post a new FTPL video, such as this one, and ordinarily, I would open an article with a quote that has either some relevance to the article topic, or education in general. Not today. You may recall that I recently wrote about my troubles with engaging with reading for professional development and that I would begin reading Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager. I have read the  introduction, and I have begun writing an article based on that portion of the book, but I felt that the last page of the Introduction was deserving of an article in its own right.

If you do not yet have a copy of the book (a state you may rectify by clicking here), the Introduction concludes with a poem, which I have found online and included in full, below.

The Hundred Languages (1)

No way. The hundred is there.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

I showed this poem to Mrs C21st this afternoon and asked her for her impressions, wanting to find out if they echoed my own. She replied “yep, that was school” which was essentially my own initial emotional response to the poem. It is a sad indictment on our education system, I believe, that the above poem is an indicator of what schooling has been reduced to. It is a narrative that we have seen play out in the nightly news and the election cycle over the last few decades as schooling gradually moved towards the data-driven standardised-testing focus mechanism that it now appears to be. Many teachers do work hard to include facets of tinkering and play in their teaching, and I believe, I hope, that we will see a balance found between the need for data to drive the political cycle, and the needs of our students and their futures.

I am looking forward to diving into this book over the coming weeks, and to challenging my own perceptions and beliefs about tinkering, the makerspace movement, its application to education and education in general, and would very much like to hear what your thoughts and responses are to the poem above.

(1) Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini) as cited in Libow Martinez, Stager (2015), p. 8, Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. Retrieved from 12 October 2015

FutureSchools Masterclass review – Flipped Class with Jon Bergmann

After looking through the masterclass options (as outlined in this article) I opted to enroll in the masterclass with Jon Bergmann, focusing on the Flipped Class. Primarily, I selected this class as the class I was in during my internship was trialing, at that point, 1:1 BYODD utilising iPads, and was ‘sort of’ using the flipped class, using what Jon Bergmann calls in-flipping where the instructional videos are watched by students in the classroom, rather than at home, and I found it to be highly effective, and wanted to learn more about how to implement it.

If you are currently scratching your head, wondering what the flipped classroom and flipped learning is, then I recommend reading this article, or this article, or watching the below video, which together, do a good job of explaining what flipping is about. Much of what Jon talked about in terms of the why to flip, during the masterclass, is covered in either the above articles, or the below video. The one point which I don’t believe is made clear in the video or the articles is that flipped brings a visual element to the explicit teaching of our students, an idea which Ian Jukes made plain in his presentation, is something we as educators should be doing more of.

A lot of the masterclass consisted of Jon walking us through various tools, pitfalls, and strategies for success when flipping, and there was a wide range of people, from myself as a K-6 casual teacher, to a high school mathematics teacher, to IT or e-learning people, all with different levels of experience, in different parts of Australia, in different educational structures (government, non-government, primary, secondary, tertiary). I will try to condense the nine pages of notes that I took down to a reasonable length, which I think will be quite manageable. Jon did also mention that he and Aaron Sams have released some books in the “How to flip….” series, starting with “Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners.”

First of all, three key resources that Jon listed were, and While they do all sound the same, they serve very different purposes. From memory, flippedclass is the for core website for starting off on the discovery of how and why to flip, is a not-for-profit organisation and is an online community of flippers.

The first thing Jon showed us, was just part of his toolbelt for the presentation, which was mirroring his laptop onto his iPad using an app called Doceri. This allowed him to move around the room while he talked, and still interact and manipulate the laptop, not only moving back and forth between the slides, but to change applications, make notes and do anything else that he would ordinarily need to be at the computer to do.

Jon was quick to point out that any subject area can be flipped, telling us the story about the PE teachers that he mentions in the above video, and reiterated that the key question you need to ask yourself is what is the best use of my face-to-face time?” The answer to this question conceptually be the same for all subject areas – more time to do stuff. What that stuff is, will of course differ from subject to subject.

Jon showed us a clip, which I have included below, which anyone who lived in the 1980s will know, and which I will not give any further introduction too, as an example of what teaching often feels like for our students, and said that it has to be better than this, or as Gary Stager put it, “those that know better, should do better.”

Interactive whiteboards are simply glorified chalkboards and don’t actually change the pedagogy, resulting in classrooms that are still teacher-centric. He pointed out that everything we teach is already on the internet, in some form, and that we need to move towards more inquiry and discovery, a theme which I suspect Gary Stager would agree with.

Jon then spoke about some strategies for flipping particular subject areas. English, he said, you would only flip partially. You would still need to read the book, but the explicit instruction about particular themes, ideas, or plot lines could be done via flipping. He also pointed out that the writing conference could be flipped. He pointed out that teachers have to mark and provide feedback on writing anyway, so why not film it as its being done and providing higher quality feedback than you can write in just a few lines.

Session two of the day was about the tools. Jon strongly recommends recording your own videos, as it lends the personal touch, and helps foster the relationship between you and your students, and also you and your students’ parents. It will also help with the claims that you are no longer teaching your students. There are four tools to master in flipping your classroom: video creation, video hosting, video interaction and learning management. The first two, I think, are fairly straight forward as to what they are. Video interaction is about setting the videos up to have interactions, such as formative questions during the video, whilst learning management is about the management of the process of tracking and recording and monitoring students’ learning progress. Jon quickly pointed out that there are a plethora of options when it comes to tools, and that the best tool is the one that you’ll use, and that tools need to be easy for all to use.

13 Tips to Making a Good Video

Jon spoke about his thirteen tips to making a good video.

  1. Keep it short – no more than 1 to 1.5 minutes per grade level. E.g. Year five videos should be no longer than 5 to 7.5 minutes, whilst year twelve videos should be no longer than twelve to eighteen minutes.
  2. Animate your voice – don’t be the economics teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
  3. Work with a partner. Utilising a colleague, or an inquisitive student in your videos models interaction, and provides a different voice for students to hear, and also allows for genuine questioning of concepts to facilitate elaboration or re-explanation in different language.
  4. Add humour.
  5. Audio matters – the key to a good video is a quiet room and a noise cancelling microphone.
  6. Less text more images (I think Jon was channeling Ian Jukes again).
  7. Utilise annotations on screen where appropriate
  8. Insert or splice in video clips where appropriate.
  9. Picture in picture – if you are screencasting, have your face visible through picture in picture.
  10. Use callouts and zooms.
  11. Embed quizzing (this is the video interaction component I mentioned earlier).
  12. Make sure that you are copyright compliant.

Jon went through some of the software options for each of the four tools that need to be mastered. Thankfully, he has included a very brief (a few dot-points) review on the flippedclass website. For the video creation tools, click here. For the video hosting tools, click here. For the video interaction tools, click here (It does need to be noted that there is one tool missing from the video interaction list, which Jon only discovered whilst at the FutureSchools expo, and that is myEd. I’m currently trialling it, under a thirty day free trial option, and am very much leaning towards purchasing myself a single-user license. Jon said he would explore it and include it in the list once he had done so). For the Learning Management tools, click here (myEd also fits into this category).

After discussing the different tools and their features, Jon challenged us all to select a tool that we had not used before, and to make a one-minute video including a subtle reference to a kangaroo and the opera house. I had not come to the masterclass with an iPad or a laptop, which in hindsight was rather silly of me, and so I paired off with a high school mathematics teacher from the Gold Coast who was experimenting with Screencast-o-matic,

The third session was a continuation of the discussion around tools, including showing us where to access the repository of (unscreened by Jon or Aaron), videos created by teachers around the world for flipping, which are organised by subject, with notes for the age/year level the videos were made for and who made them. This can be accessed here. We watched short sections of a few videos and as a group discussed what did and did not work for those videos, and what made them engaging (or not). He also showed us the collection of two other, separate teachers Jonathan Thomas-Palmer’s Flipped Physics (example below) and Mr Brown’s 3rd Grade Class website.

The question was asked about how to convince skeptics of the flipped movement, and Jon thoughtfully showed us how to access the bank of research that he and Aaron have collated onto the flippedlearning website, which includes case studies, white papers, and research done by both Jon and Aaron, as well as other educational researchers.

The conversation again turned to the pitfalls of flipping, and Jon reiterated the point that it’s not just creating the videos and sending the students home to watch them. We need to teach them how to interact and engage with them, which is different to just watching Spiderman or Star Wars. This is best done by doing it together, in the classroom – in-flipping, for the first period of time, the length of which will vary depending on your context (age of students, topic etc). It is largely about teaching them how and why to take notes and to organise those notes, and recommended the Cornell system for doing so. Taking the time to ensure that your students know how to engage with the video and not just watch it will provide dividends down the road, with improved effectiveness of the flipped structure and improved outcomes accordingly.

The final session of the day, was the what next? step. After we have been flipping for a few years, and have got Flipping 101 down pat, what comes next? Jon talked about their being different paths, and which one is taken will vary, again on the context. The choices are flipped mastery, peer instruction, the introduction of growth of project based learning, mastery with gamification, and genius hour. A lot of this discussion centered around the fact that flipping creates more time in the class, and it needs to be decided how to use this time.

Providing choice days for students (as opposed to activity days) where students are empowered to pursue any question, problem or interest that they choose provides agency, and can lead to higher levels of engagement when it is an activity day, as students are aware that they have time for for self-directed and self-chosen learning. It does of need to be done within a framework, where students are held accountable for their learning through having to provide evidence of learning, in some form. Providing time for students to be metacognitive about their learning also provides benefits, and can be done either by the student on their own, with a peer or as a student led student-teacher conference.

Coming to the end, Jon outlined the four biggest hurdles that need to be overcome to successfully implement the flipped classroom.

  1. Flipping the thinking of colleagues/supervisors/administrators – which is essentially a process of evangelism.
  2. The time factor – recording all the videos does take time (initially, once recorded, it’s saved).
  3. The technology factor – deciding what to use, and learning how to maximise its use.
  4. Training the students, their parents and the teachers on how and why flipping is beneficial.

I am incredibly glad that I opted to attend the masterclass. It was a day well spent, and I feel much more comfortable about flipping my class, when I get one. If you’ve ever thought about it, I encourage you to give it a go. Like any new ‘thing’ it will be scary and daunting and feel hard to start with, and you will most likely be ridiculed for it, but be brave. There is a whole network of people who will support you. #flipclass is an ongoing Twitter conversation, and the Flipped Learning Network contains a series of discussion forums to help you, encourage you and give you feedback.

As always, thank you for reading, and I would really like to hear from anyone who is flipping, or is thinking of flipping to hear how you are going with it, in the comments section.

In closing this series of articles reviewing my time at the FutureSchools expo and conference, I will leave you with a video, to encourage you to be a leader in your school, and a follower within the Flipped Class movement.

FutureSchools ClassTech Conference Review. Day 2 Session 4 – the Maker revolution for learning

“Nothing beautiful is forced”
– Gary Stager

Gary Stager’s presentation was one of the presentations I was particularly looking forward to, for a whole range of reasons. He was recommended to me as a ‘must follow’ on Twitter and as someone who was at the forefront of pushing for a move towards combining curriculum and practicality through doing by one of my professors in the final year of my undergraduate degree. Accordingly, I followed him on Twitter it is an interesting read. Gary is certainly not someone who is backwards about coming forwards, and can be highly dismissive of ‘education revolutions’ that are often touted, even amongst many other educators who are seen as being ‘heavyweights’ in the education world. I have not had the pleasure of a deep dialogue with Gary, and so I cannot speak to his thinking behind his dismissal of many educational theories. That said, his presentation was highly engaging, and Gary was clearly full of energy and passion. Gary did plug his book Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, co-authored with Sylvia Libow Martinez, which I bought a copy of and which Gary kindly signed for me, and having read the first chapter, it’s a book that gets the brain excited to change the pedagogical practices used.

Gary opened by describing computers as laboratories for expression and by saying that “young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity, we need to leverage that or it manifests as boredom,” a sentiment that I think most teachers will have seen at some point over their career. Gary quoted Seymour Papert, who said “when ideas go to school, they lose their power” when saying that the maker community has had it with school. Given that kids are the ones at the centre of the maker movement, where they have genuine choice, agency and power, and are being valued and appreciated for their skills, thinking and ingenuity, this sends a strong message to educators that our pedagogical choices are stifling our students.

Paul Hamilton said in his presentation that “[y]ou don’t start the creation of a new amazing building with a tool. You start with a design. So why on earth would you start the creation of an amazing learning experience with an app?” Gary echoed this sentiment by saying that “[…]it would be irresponsible to build a pen around a student. We need to use the materials of the environment.” He elaborated on this by commenting that when the same skills are required in the physics laboratory, as are required in the arts studio, the design room and the English class, then the lines between the discipline have been obliterated. This destruction of the traditional demarcation between the scholastic disciplines is not possible if the disciplines continue to constrain their students within specific, formulaic pens.

Educational institutions have overvalued learning with our heads and undervalued learning with hands and hearts, according to Gary. To demonstrate this point, or rather, to show what can occur when the constraints are removed, Gary played us a Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show video. I’ve not been able to find the specific one that Gary showed us, but the below is one of the videos on the SuperAwesomeSylvia YouTube Channel.

Sylvia’s energy and passion is indicative of those involved in the maker movement and demonstrates that programming can go from digital to analog, or soft copy to hard copy as the programming takes place in the ‘soft copy’ or digital environment and is then turned into a hard copy when the code is activated in it’s physical; construct, whether that be a robot of some description, or some other device constructed by the maker.

The quote by Gary in the above image stunned me, until I thought about the current trend of helicopter parenting, where our students’ lives are often scheduled for every minute of the day, and that often they are short-term events such as play-dates, extra-curricular classes, and often for very short amounts of time. At school, students are told to learn in discrete blocks of time, mathematics is half an hour today, spelling is fifteen minutes, science is another half an hour and so on, and there is still very little use of discipline/curriculum integration, or sustained sessions where the students have the opportunity to dive deep into a skill or concept. The isolation of the curriculum subjects from each other also makes it hard for students to learn how to transfer skills and conceptual knowledge across the disciplines into various applications, both within the academic disciplines and the real-world applications.

This is another area in which the maker-movement is seeing great success, where skills and concepts from a range of disciplines are brought together to solve problems, with students getting their hands dirty in the actual problem solving process, as the problems are real ones that they need to be solve, as opposed to contrived ones that many teachers, myself included, either make up themselves, or pull out of a textbook for the purpose of learning how to find the length of the hypotenuse or other such ‘problems.’ These are contrived problems because the answer is already known, meaning they are not real problems, they are tests to check for students ability to remember how to apply a specific formula to a specific type of question. Gary reiterated this point when he commented that “[…]students learn a lot of vocabulary without any context.”

Gary continued along this train of thought, saying that not only do schools have a “sacred obligation” to introduce students to things they have not seen before, but that as teachers, we cannot teach twenty-first century learners if we have not learned anything this century. Unfortunately there are still a lot of teachers who have not gotten on the twenty-first century train, and still require all learning to be done on paper and written by hand. Whilst there is certainly still a place for paper and handwriting, there is more and more, no reason why much of what we do with students and their output, cannot be submitted digitally, whether it be via e-mail, Google Docs, video submission, or one of the plethora of digital submission options.

I’ll leave you today with two powerful comments that Gary left us with, to close out the ClassTech conference stream of FutureSchools Expo 2015.

“Every time you have to engage in an educational transaction, ask if there is more they can do and less you can do to give your students more agency.”

“Those of us who know better, should do better. If we won’t stand between them and the madness, then who will?”

My next article (perhaps the next two or three, depending on how much I write from my notes) will be a review of the Masterclass I attended, lead by flipped learning pioneer, Jon Bergmann.

As always, thank you for reading, and please leave a comment. I would love to hear from anyone who has successfully incorporated a makerspace into their pedagogy, or their school, and how you went about doing so, the hurdles you overcame and the opposition you faced, and how you won the naysayers over.