Friday, 16 May 2014

Entrepreneurial Spirit Thrives in the Learning Commons

“Mr. MacKenzie, can I talk to you later? I think we should start a football club”, proposed three boys, eager for organized sport. The day prior, different kids wanted to start an animation club. Before that I was approached by other students explaining that they wanted me to learn how to program video games... And that I should teach them how! How did we, as a school, get here? We got to this point because of the Learning Commons. Our Learning Commons fosters an Entrepreneurial Spirit, and it has absolutely transformed our school culture.

Those kids weren’t interested in programming, animation, or sports because they were told they needed to be- they approached me because they knew the LC supports students: They knew the LC is for them. They had developed an Entrepreneurial Spirit so nothing felt out of reach...All they needed to do was to inquire, to pursue and to remain engaged in the face of failure and closed doors. The students who were seeking out a football club were rejected by me, (Ya, I know...But to be fair I’d already done a hockey and basketball club, and soccer was being scheduled). Where did they go next? To another teacher, then the principal. Not once throughout the process were they dissuaded.

The kids with a craving to learn animation couldn’t find a teacher-expert to guide them, but they asked for the tools. We gave them an iPad with the right apps and after multiple LC lunches, those kids had independently crafted a lego-animation that was proudly shown at the school talent show. It was greeted with laughter, “Oohs!” and “Ahhs!” from an engaged audience.

A couple of the 6th grade programmers
working through a challenge. 

The programmers were interested in a smaller audience and were intrinsically motivated. They inspired me to find tools for them, and as a result we have a maker-station with the SCRATCH programming language and ongoing, monthly challenges. To be honest, though, they’re ignoring the challenges ... But only because they are making games of their own. Who wants to make a stupid cat jump when you can make a bird dodge objects? How did we, as a school, foster this?

All we did was make a Learning Commons available to students. We gave them tools with no boundaries, we encouraged, we supported, and we nurtured a growth mindset. At lunch, at recess, and during finish-up time, students come in to do, to make, and to create. In our Learning Commons, an “Entrepreneurial Spirit” doesn’t mean starting a business: It means advocating for yourself and your peers, it means caring about something enough to take a chance. Our school’s philosophy is deeply invested in our students’ Entrepreneurial Spirit: We gave kids care, trust, and a space, and we watched them take on challenges. We guided them as they fell down and stood back up, as they persisted with their passions. To me, this is what we should all be looking for. To me, the Learning Commons model is Entrepreneurial Spirit.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Keeler School Maker Stations: Part 2

Kids in the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th grades have all carried out science experiments and designed things during their lunch hour... For no reason other than because they want to! It has been outstanding, bizarre and wonderful to watch kids use our maker stations. It turns out that any project can, and should, be turned into a maker station for our learning commons.

Station 1: Parachutes. Read here about our parachute maker station. Since that post, there have been about 20 parachutes made by kids in different grades, and supported by grade 6 students who fielded their questions.
Kids (grade 2 and 5) building parachutes at lunch

Station 2: Pulleys. Kids are doing a series of progressive challenges for pulleys, during LC times. The engagement was outstanding... So we opened it up for lunch time exploration. As kids were exploring at lunch, the grade 4s tried things we hadn't yet asked them to: They made cross-library zip lines as well as double, and even triple, pulley systems.

If you look closely, you'll see a pulley
system from one part of the LC to
Station 3: Raspberry Pi. Although we're not studying programming in a classroom, we got our hands on a Raspberry Pi computer (loaded with Scratch) and a TV donated to our school. The domino effect was hilarious... At the first recess there were 2 kids around the computer. At lunch there were 4. The next day there were 8. The day after that, there were more. Questions I recorded:
  • How do you make him walk?
  • How could we make a background? Can it move while he's walking?
  • What if he jumped on that guy, what would happen? How could we make something happen? 
  • Who can teach us? Where can...Youtube!! (And the students ran off to another computer)
In the past couple weeks we have really explored how we can use the space, and I think we've found it: These maker stations seem to be next step in the evolution of our LC!

Kids collaborating as they learn to program