I was very honored to be a participant in the very first Bright Bytes Research Institute in San Francisco, “Re-MAKE Learning: Research Behind Building and Creating.” Below is a summary of my experience and reflections.

Yesterday, our very small group which feels much like a cohort, explored the ideas and experiences behind Maker Spaces. This is a concept I am familiar with in-theory, but something I have wanted to explore more in-depth and that is exactly what we did.

Our group is led by one my educational heroes, Kristen Swanson. If you do not know who Kristen is, you should! She is an author, EdCamp Founder, and TEDx speaker. I am reading her latest book (co-written with Hadley Ferguson), “Unleashing Student Super Powers,” so look for a review on this blog very soon. Oh and follow Kristen’s Blog, Teachers as Technology Trailblazers. You can thank me later…

Our morning began with a carefully crafted ice-breaker designed to allow us to make connections with our own Maker tendencies and past experiences. Then we quickly moved to more experiential learning and making, facilitated by the fabulous Tim Hammill. Using our shiny, new Little Bits starter kits, we played and created semi-functional prototypes that also connected to our passions as educators.

I must admit that I was ecstatic to play, but the minute this became an assignment–a timed assignment that needed to also represent my beliefs as an educator–I froze. Here I sit among a select group of brilliant educators, and the pressure to create something not only with working circuitry but also connecting it to what I do as an educator was a little paralyzing. I persevered. I am nothing if not a little GRITTY! This was a great activity. The short amount of time kept us focused, and connecting the prototype to our beliefs gave us a focused purpose, even in a short amount of time.

Next, we boarded a bus for a field trip to Ravenswood to visit a working Maker Space in action. Seeing students in the space was AMAZING! We saw elementary students tinkering, taking the Cardboard Challenge, designing in 3D using Tinker CAD, building with Little Bits and using a Laser cutter. The facilitator and STEM coordinator, Rob Pronovost, does a phenomenal job with this space! The ideas were endless! We took a lot of pictures to capture the student’s learning and our own. But as outside observers and educators who are passionate about student learning, we were left with many questions regarding the viability of Maker Spaces in our schools. How do we find the sweet spot between playful learning and chaos?

To reflect and move forward, we analyzed our printed photos. What did we see? What was missing? How do we give purpose, meaning and connect to learning goals? How do we add structure and meaningful assessment to something that thrives on student passions and choice without stifling creativity? I found myself discovering a lot of parallels between my questions about Maker Ed and Genius Hour. My brain hurt…but in that good way!

Day two gave us an opportunity to take a deeper dive into game-based learning. I know my GBL skills are very surface-level, so I was excited to gain a deeper understanding. The presentation from Peter Stidwill and Learning Games Network did NOT disappoint. In fact, it gave me a renewed enthusiasm for gamification and GBL, so much so that I revamped a training I was delivering the very next day. Thanks, Peter!

Kristen led us through a debrief activity that really forced us to think critically about what we are already doing, where we wanted to go, and what we need. How do we take these idea back and model, support implementation, and move forward all within the constraints of our current educational system? Again…my brain hurt, but I was honored to be working through this issues with bright minds.

So, as I sit on a plane back to Dallas, I’m contemplating the possibilities of all that we experienced and shared. It was an honor to be selected to participate in the inaugural Bright Bytes Research Institute, and I look forward to the resulting white paper and continued connections and collaboration. Bonus! I just got my certification badge (see image above)!

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