Nov 22, 2011

Feedback: Technical Module

The most important takeaway from this presentation and critique is nailing down who it is for (teacher or student), where it will be implemented (in school or after school) – these are crucial questions I did not answer in this presentation, and Ryan’s critique made me realize that I needed to return to these as I move forward with my proposal. I believe his specific words were “those are key decisions that you’ll have to make that will have a big impact on what your project is.”

Here’s upshot: I think that I have been going about the structure all wrong. I have been very focused on creating an object, when in reality I am talking about objects that facilitate a process. The process of learning is the key piece, and I want to design a learning environment focused on learning through making. This being the new case, I also have a slightly revised statement that I WOULD LOVE FEEDBACK ON:

STEAM-inspired, modular middle school curriculum designed to facilitate learning and empower teaching of abstract computational and electrical concepts through the personal fabrication of a physical, computationally-enhanced toolkit using alternative, “soft” materials.

There are a number of components I need to address now that I feel much more capable of dealing with at this point in the process. I feel I have my theoretical argument and now it is time for the practical grounding. Here is the big list:

(1) In school and Afterschool
Ideally I would like to tackle both, and I do believe that this is in the scope of my timeline. I believe that to fully realize the potential for innovation this thesis holds requires an in school context. The main reason for this is audience; focusing on an all afterschool setting does not address the audience issue, which is one of the hearts of my thesis. Students who participate in robotics or physical computing afterschool programs are already engaged in this subject matter – and it is a very small percentage of the population, usually dominated by male students. By fighting for the inschool setting in an approachable manner for both teacher AND student, this dynamic has more of an opportunity to change. STEM skills and standards aside, who knows how many students would become interested in these types of activities and how it might empower them to find meaning and creativity with a completely new set of tools.

One possible solution that I am terribly interested in exploring is the idea of a modular curriculum. I do not have a good definition for this yet, but it is something I have been preoccupied with for about four and a half years. It is more to me than it sounds – there is a tension between modularity and scaffolding that would be super fun to play around with.

(2) Teachers and Students
What do I want each of them to get out of it? This was another “ah-ha” moment from Ryan’s critique that will help me focus on the goal and eventual implementation of my thesis.

Big Picture: The focus here is on relevance and theory
How will this contribute to the greater world? What challenges face the next generation of learners? How are they equipped to deal with them? Why is it important to have a population of students who understand these concepts and can apply them? What past and current challenges confront the current population of teachers and students? How does my thesis address them?

Individual Picture: The focus here is on ownership and self-expression, both of the learner and teacher
a. Creative self-expression – What personal meaning can students derive from this approach? How can this build a foundation for other creative endeavors? What role can self-expression and creativity play in learning scientific and technological concepts?

b. More confidence in learning and applying these concepts – How does building lead to more self-confidence? How does making allow greater potential for the application of the concepts later?

c. Foundation and threshold into other avenues of interest (that might otherwise be unknown) – How might the introduction of these materials, concepts, etc. lead to interests in other domains?

State Standard Picture: The focus here is on applicability and practicality
How will this curriculum align with the standards? What approaches to learning does it draw from? What resources will I provide for implementation? What do I want the classroom to look like when this is implemented, both in terms of physical space and teacher-student/student-student dynamics?

(3) Curriculum and toolkit (aka modularity all around)
Since I am not making and selling this kit, there needs to be much more of a focus on the curriculum and lesson structure. This will also make it extremely more valid in the eyes of one of my primary targets: teachers. The curriculum will guide the students and teacher in making the boxes. Each student will create their own computationally-enhanced paper boxes that will serve as their personal manipulatives and physical badges of what they learned.

(4) The role of design (not design of the toolkit, but the role of design thinking as it is integrated into the curriculum)
Most toolkits and curriculum around computer science and electricity focus on explaining the concepts through different analogies, experiments, etc. But the problem still lies in instantiating these learning objectives within a real world context. By integrating design principles, I hope to do two things: (1) broaden the appeal to different styles of learners by emphasizing self-expression and creativity within construction and (2) cultivate systems thinking skills by having learners consider how they design objects (boxes) that integrate circuits and the type of behavior they want to effect.

(5) Personal Fabrication (constructionism)
Learning = making. This is the foundation I am starting from and my giants are Papert, Piaget, Vygotsky, Resnic. There is something wonderfully satisfying about seeing and holding something that you made, and by extension, understanding how it works.

(6) The specific concepts I will address in each lesson
This is absolutely imperative to nail down immediately. It has been immensely frustrating to use such vague terms as “computational thinking” and “concepts of electricity” as I try to explain my thesis to other DTers, educators, and especially any non-tech inclined person. Recently I have used every explanation as an opportunity to refine my statement and simplify the terms I am using for a more direct impact. Enumerating these, why they are important (see number two above), and how they curriculum/toolkit addresses them.

The general objectives I will focus on extrapolating are the headers of each lesson:
_ Design (making the box)
_ Electronics (making an LED box)
_ Talking (making two boxes that are a switch)
_ Sensing (making one box that is a switch)
_ Computation (making one box that is a switch for another box)
_ Networks (making a series of boxes that are switches for each other)

I am currently working on a diagram that outlines the structure of the curriculum and the different building stages associated with each.

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