April 3, 2014

Authentic Learning

This week I had two parents tell me at different times that they were very happy with what I was doing in class. The first parent called and left a message. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a parent call and leave a voice message with the only purpose being to state how pleased they are with how I am teaching. I’ve had compliments in passing or in email, but never a phone message. It was clear that this mother was really appreciative of what is happening in class. The other parent was picking up her daughter from an after school program where her daughter was learning how to program with Scratch. She shared with me how her daughter told her that she wanted to get 2 Ph.Ds and then discover time travel. I’m sure she was inspired by a book we read in class called When You Reach Me (one of my favorites). I was encouraged by these reports and began reflecting on if I was doing anything special for these students or if they were just having a great week.

Our second attempt at the marker.

Our second attempt at the marker.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that both of those students are spearheading our Infrared Interactive Whiteboard Marker Project that I have written about previously. It’s clear to me that working on this project is giving these students a positive sense of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy defined by Psychologist Albert Bandura, is “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations. One’s sense of self-efficacy can play a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges.” One of the best benefits of maker education is the sense of accomplishment that students feel. A project like the marker for our school is about as authentic as learning gets. The students have a real purpose that will benefit the entire school. They are motivated to complete this project because they know it matters. These students are spending much of their recess time working on these markers. Not because they are being forced to, but because they want to. I’m not even planning on making this project part of their grade, and they don’t care. They are intrinsically motivated to do something that matters.

Taking a deeper look at the learning that is happening and the benefits keep increasing because not only are they motivated, but there is much learning that is happening too. Mathematics are present in the proposal that they put together for student council. They had to calculate the cost of each component, search for better deals, account for shipping and taxes, and keep it all under a targeted amount. The students will then have to engineer the body of the marker. They did download one that someone else has already created, but they are making modifications to improve the design. The science concepts in this project directly link to California State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. The students will have to create circuits with a power source, IR LED, wires, and a switch. At some point I will take some time to investigate infrared light and the different uses for it with students.

Maker education and 3D printing have made it possible to have a project that students are highly motivated and are learning and using important skills. If all teaching and learning could be done in this way, schools would look very different.

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