What we made today: September 6th, 2012

by Chad Sansing

MaKey MaKey: it's alive…it's alive!

MaKey MaKey: it’s alive…it’s alive!

For me, teaching is the same thing as imagining the future. However, given that our schools are stuck in the past, this year I’m trying to follow trends in learning outside school to see if I can at least help my classroom catch up with the present. I want my kids to master the discovered curriculum – the learning they pursue to find meaning and make stuff – and to approach the intended curriculum through meaningful, personal, inquiry-driven lenses that put our language arts standards to work for us.

While I do my best to remain figuratively small in my classroom (to teach with the smallest managerial footprint possible), I’ve set a few goals for myself (apart from the one about student performance) to help me catch up with the present and dream about the future.

  • I want all of my kids to tell stories across several forms of media.
  • I want all of my kids to learn enough new vocabulary to access increasingly ambiguous, complex, and sophisticated texts that reflect their maturation, confusion, changing worldviews and search for identity.
  • I want all of my kids to feel like our class is a family full of the care, humor, and forgiveness we each want for ourselves.

To fulfill those goals, I’m trying to bring my story-telling A-game to class each day. I’m ditching the stories and activities that don’t work on the spot. I’m making room for what works – especially when students’ stories and conjectures work better than mine. I’m putting the discovered curriculum – the learning kids pursue to find meaning and make stuff – ahead of my intended curriculum so that when students encounter standards they do so through deeply personal lenses of inquiry and wonder.

To scaffold students’ story-telling and community-building, I’m approaching the opening of the school year as a time for the creation of student spaces in the classroom and on our computers.

We’re building individual workspaces off the work stations in our classroom. Students are recycling cardboard into paneling and shelving – and they’re brining or building their own storage and decor to make the room reflect themselves.

Designing a CMYK backdrop for a workspace

Designing a CMYK backdrop for a workspace

Scored, flexible cardboard for a shelf

Scored, flexible cardboard for a shelf

The scored cardboard shelf shapes up

The scored cardboard shelf shapes up

We’re coding basic webpages that will grow into electronic portfolios. Each portfolio will have a page for student-made badges designed in response to each week’s learning. Students have already begun self-assessing and asking themselves how to represent what they’ve learned and made in class. To begin, Friday will be our self-badging day (using pixel art right now), and Web-authoring will be part of our daily writing. (Is there a better proof-reading activity than debugging code?) Eventually, we’ll organize and connect our badges and perhaps adopt the Mozilla totems of Web-authorship.

Designing a primary color-scheme competency badge

Designing a primary color-scheme competency badge

Designing an analogous color-scheme competency badge

Designing an analogous color-scheme competency badge

Student coding with a text editor and a browser

Student coding with a text editor and a browser

We’re messing around with approaches and materials that seem alien to traditional language arts classrooms. Today we played with a MaKey MaKey board. We can confirm it works with air-dry clay, grapes, sandwiches, copper tape, and people. Some of us even played a song together by tapping on one another’s arms.

Our initial MaKey MaKey set-up

Our initial MaKey MaKey set-up

An air-dry clay MaKey MaKey button

An air-dry clay MaKey MaKey button

A sandwich being used as a MaKey MaKey input for a piano

A sandwich being used as a MaKey MaKey input for a piano

We have ideas about making a basketball into an input device – for a Scratch-programmed b-ball game – using copper tape. We have ideas about connecting the MaKey MaKey board to our shoes so that we can “walk” characters on the screen. None of our ideas has a clear connection to our standards yet, and that’s awesome. We have to play with new toys to see what they can do before we can imagine using them intentionally. Good design is predicated on play, which is really the imaginative iteration of our expectations as we push ideas and toys past what we thought was possible. I have no doubt that MaKey MaKey – and a bevy of other unlikely things – will become part of my students’ story-telling repertoire.

I’m not supposed to know how, but I am glad my kids are already thinking about designing alternative impute devices for the computers and mobile computing devices ceaselessly present in their lives. They are thinking like Valve in middle school thanks to a little electronic toy I never could have imagined.

We need to write, make, and play alongside our students. We need to learn from them what’s really possible in school. We need to help them find their voices and stories so that democratizing composition becomes a culture – not just a pedagogy or practice aimed at our kids.

We have students who will grow up to design amazing things.

Our classrooms should acknowledge as much, and we should recognize that acknowledgement as a profoundly good and right thing, despite the institutionalized shame we might feel in putting our kids and their future ahead of the intended curriculum and all its tidy, annual outputs.

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