It’s not that teaching kids is easy. It’s not. Obviously. But teaching adults is a whole different kind of tricky. Beyond that, it’s different running sessions at conferences in front of people who, in theory, choose to come into your room and sit and listen for an hour, and running a training for your own staff at your own school.
At school it should be easier. But we know it’s not. There’s a different level of expectation when you’re presenting to peers you share a building with. I’m not a TOSA or a coach. So they don’t see me as Someone Who Runs Trainings. That’s a whole different issue, how we don’t see and take advantage of the experts all around us as much as we should. When I go to other schools and run professional developments I always ask for one or two volunteers from that site to prepare a short five-to-ten minute Check This Out for their staff. I make the point to talk about how, as much as I love being there, there’s no need to fly someone in from elsewhere to train them. I see it as doing my bit to strengthen their independent and interdependent whole.
Knowing that and doing that, training my own staff is still something else. But there I was, standing in front of everyone one morning in the MakerSpace, preparing to run a(nother) How To Use This Space. You see, this is the third year we’ve had a MakerSpace, and I love it. I’m in there regularly with my students. So are a few other teachers. But that’s not enough. The puzzle my principal and I are constantly working on is how to get more teachers in there with their students. This is my puzzle to solve because I’m part of the team that got the space built and because I’m of the persuasion that if you want something done right, do it yourself. This is worth my time.
Much of the problem comes down to preparation. Many teachers like being very prepared before they start a lesson or a project. The freedom of a MakerSpace can be a little intimidating if that’s not how you normally teach. So they don’t come in. This isn’t something I can judge. It would be so easy so easy for me to say, “Well they should just evolve. Just get with it, come along, let’s go, you’re leaving your kids behind.” But I can’t. Because exactly no one motivates by a peer telling them they are hurting their students. I have to work with these people, so denigrating their dedication to the job isn’t an option. I have to look for understanding. I’m the kind of person who has an idea and runs with it, ready to improvise and tap dance, ready to crash and burn. I accept not everyone is like that. So I can either expect them to be, or I can differentiate my instruction and adjust my expectations and meet them where they are.
We have done a few Getting To Know You trainings in the MakerSpace where I set up the green screen and the Spheros and Dash and a few of the other tools we have in there and let the staff go for it, play, push buttons. These didn’t work. They’d work for me, that’s how I learn new tools. But they weren’t specific enough. I needed a new plan. So I lesson planned.
I broke the MakerSpace up into four sections and created challenges that I knew my students could do, and that I knew could be leveled up or down for a variety of other grade levels.
Before we began, with everyone looking at me to be “trained”, I went into my song and dance. “Every one of these challenges can be done by students. I know because mine have. They can also be leveled. I know because you’re good teachers who know your grades better than I do. I also know that some of you, especially those who teach the littles, are more unsure that your kids can do it. Please trust me. They’ll need a little more guidance, but they will surprise you once you get them on the right path.” Then I gave a brief overview of each station and set everyone to make their choice.
Station One- Sphero Maze
I laid down two not-very complex tracks with tape and challenged teachers to use Tickle to code one of our Spheros through the track, which included a stop for a color change.
Station Two- Dash the Actor
Ok, I lied about my kids doing all of these. We haven’t done this one yet, but I want to. Using the Wonder app, Dash can be coded to say whatever you want. Choose a dramatic monologue and code Dash to perform it. Use his movement, lights, and colors to express the emotion of the scene.
Station Three- Quick Build Wind-Powered Cars
Use the materials in the MakerSpace to design, build, test, and revise a wind-powered car. I love this project.
Station Four- Green Screen Slideshow Adventure
Using the green screen and DoInk, take pictures of yourself on an adventure. Then get the photos off the iPad and into your Drive, then into a Slideshow. For a greater challenge publish your slideshow to the web then use Screencastify to narrate it.
Like any other lesson, there were problems I knew to predict. Our Spheros are fussy about pairing to the iPads sometimes. It’s a pain to get photos off the iPad and into Drive unless everything is set up or you’ve got familiarity with it. And not everyone is as comfortable troubleshooting as I am, so I spent time making the choice between when to help and when to point in the general area of the correct option and step away. Again, it’s really easy to say, “Just Google it and figure it out,” when you’re a voice on the internet. Harder to peers. Though it is easy to say to students.
All in all, I think the training went well. But it’s hard to tell. The staff asked for a Google Drive folder that they/we/I could put MakerSpace lesson ideas in. No one complained that it was a waste of their morning. A few teachers got to feel that rush of success when you go from not knowing how to do something to accomplishing a challenge (the Sphero maze was a big hit). The new challenge for me is to keep my door open, keep offering support, and keep encouraging teachers. A few of us have put forward the open offer to take our kids in with any other class and let our kids train their kids. And the challenge for everyone else to take that leap, even if they need to hold a hand to do it. We’re growing together, but each at their own pace. Which is better than forcing growth and dealing with blowback and no buy-in.
Doug Robertson is the CUE Blog Editor and a twelfth-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of three books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One, one novel, The Unforgiving Road, and is an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words). Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.