I’ve spent the last week helping Heather Bitka and Rachel O’Sheehan launch a brand new makerspace in Roy B. Kelley School in Lockport. This project began with solid visioning work that challenged all of us to think about and then rethink about what would happen in that space, how, and most importantly: why.
This week has been an incredible learning experience for me, as I’ve tested new professional learning approaches and protocols while deepening my understanding of documenting for learning as well. Are you willing to provide feedback on my revised coaching tool? Take a peek below. I’d love to talk with you about it here or in another space, if you have time. It’s intended to help teachers plan and document learning inside of makerspaces, and it was inspired by my realization that lesson study and instructional coaching changes shape here.
As we established purposes for our learning and work this week and prepared to engage in documentation during the launch, we used this documentation tool to establish topics for study, the phases of the learning process we planned to document, and the tools we planned to use for documentation purposes as well:
We were interested in studying two things:
- First, we wanted to study how students engaged in investigation when provided open-ended challenges, abundant and diverse resources, and access to the entire space.
- We also wondered how students would grapple with failure as they worked on open-ended maker challenges within the space. More specifically, we wondered how working independently would influence the way they worked to overcome struggle as compared to working collaboratively.
We agreed that photo and video would allow us to document learning relevant to these focal points most efficiently. We planned to use our phones and iPads to capture these data.
Rachel also designed an elegant design thinking documentation tool for students to use as they moved through the investigation and design process. Roy B. Kelley is a 1:1 iPad school, so each student brought their own device to the table, and groups determined who would be responsible for documenting their reflections and work using Rachel’s tool, which they opened in Notability.
What We Learned:
Students were very hesitant to engage in investigation on their first day. They didn’t move from their seats when invited, they didn’t dig into the resources that lined the shelves or the tools that waited for them in different stations, and when provided project bins to support their builds, they didn’t spend much time investigating the resources in the them. This didn’t surprise us, but it did concern us a bit, because the challenges that students chose from were very open-ended. Few directions were provided, and it was clear that the students were expecting to be told what to do, how to do it, and which resources they should use. Unless they were willing to investigate everything at their fingertips, wonder, play, and propose ideas and solutions, we knew they would struggle to move forward. The data we captured helped us design a mini-lesson and anchor chart that we led with on day two. Rather than giving greater direction or providing them narrower pathways or solutions, we demonstrated what investigation looks and sounds like, and then we asked them to try it. This made for a much more rewarding experience.
Several factors seemed to influence how students dealt with struggle. For instance, when group sizes were kept small, all students engaged in the challenge and resulting problem solving. When group sizes were larger than 3, we found some members disengaging from the challenge to pursue other tasks independently. Sometimes, their work was relevant and helpful to the group. Sometimes, their work was unrelated and even unproductive.
Several groups struggled harder with their builds than others. Those that did were inclined to add more materials to their projects rather than choosing the best materials or working to pinpoint the exact problem and work toward solutions. We’re already discussing how we might frame quick lessons for makers relevant to these skills.
Several group members tackled the challenge independently at first, comparing their models and studying how each individual’s approach influenced their outcomes–especially failure. It was really interesting to watch these same individuals come together to build ONE final product that performed very well. They merged their ideas in a way that leveraged the strengths of each individual project while attending to the weaknesses discovered.
We also learned that it was really hard to remain committed to our original documentation plan. There were so many things worth paying attention to and reflecting on over the last three days, and I think that all three of us felt compelled to notice and wonder about it all. If we hadn’t taken the time to define what we would study and how we would study it, I’m certain we would have found ourselves drowning in the documentation process. That said, I have to wonder: If we treated all as data and documented everything we could over the last three days, would we have uncovered something more significant?
This takes me back to a familiar question: Do our preconceptions narrow our studies and our resulting learning? Should we begin with guiding questions and aim to study specific phenomena, or should we embrace Glaser’s recommendation and treat all as data initially?
What do you think?