I spent this morning at the Maker Tech Camp at Edwards Elementary here in Ames. Teresa Green is an innovative teacher who received a grant from the district last year to purchase various ‘maker’ resources. Since then she has been busy putting them and her students to work!
Today’s activity for the 2nd and 3rd graders was to build a Lego alligator and have it chomp down when it sensed a finger or pencil in its mouth. The students had to build the alligator – including the motion sensor – and then figure out how to use the Lego WeDo software to code it correctly. The Team Neutrino First Robotics student helpers from Ames High were of great assistance. My favorite kid quote from today was
We sent a message to the alligator and then the alligator said ‘Oh, I can do that!’
Other camp activities this week appeared to include making LED bookmarks, learning circuitry by playing with Makey Makey and other electronics, creating objects with the 3D printer, and goofing around with robots. Teresa and I talked about a lot of different things while I was there, including how to sell others on the educational value of this kind of learning, how to be less directive and enable the kids to explore more, and what ‘maker days’ have looked like at other elementary schools across Iowa. Teresa also shared with me that the Science Center of Iowa is hosting ‘maker chats’ on Twitter every other Tuesday evening this summer at 7pm CST using the #iamakerchat hashtag.
I’m pretty impressed with the Ames High School band directors. Not only are Chris Ewan and Andrew Buttermore facilitating a great band program musically (250+ students who give amazing performances), they also are modeling instructional innovation and risk-taking with technology. When our district provided laptops for students, for example, they immediately jumped on the opportunity for band students to record themselves and then submit their digital files for review. Many students are using SmartMusic to help them practice and – even cooler – marching band participants now can see what they’re trying to accomplish on the field because they’ve been sent a Pyware video that shows them what it looks like from the perspective of those of us in the stands. [Next up, Ohio State!]
But I think the most enthralling thing they’ve done to date was a video that they showed us during Parent Night last week (feel free to pause at any time to get the full effect):
How do you help a group of incoming 9th graders realize what it looks like when they’re out of step? Put a video camera on the track at foot level, of course!
Imagine you’re a brand new band student… You’ve only been marching for a few days. You’re juggling learning new music with learning how to step in time. It’s difficult to see what everyone else is doing. Your opportunities for feedback are relatively limited in the large group. And so on. It’s easy to feel like maybe you’re doing better than you really are. Heck, you didn’t hit the student next to you today with your tuba, right? But the video doesn’t lie… “Wait, those are MY feet! And I’m not there yet.” And that other video from up in the stands that shows that our lines need work too? Also useful for helping me see where I fit into the overall picture…
Why do I like this video so much? Because it models creative ways to give kids feedback and because it uses technology to help students learn how to get better. As Chris Anderson noted in his TED talk, video often allows us to innovate more rapidly. Want your 9th graders to ramp up their marching band footwork as fast as possible? Show them – don’t just tell them – what it looks like…
How is your school using technology to help kids SEE how they can get better? (and, no, I’m not talking about ‘adaptive’ multiple choice software)