Friday, August 28, 2015

5 Things I Learned While Re-reading Invent to Learn

While book publishers send me many books to read throughout the year, very few ever get mentioned on this blog because I am not in the business of writing book reviews. That said, when I do find a book that I think many of you will enjoy, I'll share it.

When Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager published Invent to Learn a couple of years I quickly read it on my Android tablet through the Kindle app. Then in March of this year I had a chance to talk with Gary for a while at a conference that we were both invited to in Sydney. While there I bought a paperback copy of Invent to Learn. I have now read it two more times and filled it with notes in the margins of the pages (scribbling notes is the best part about having a physical copy of a book). In no particular order, here are five highlights from the notes I've taken while reading Invent to Learn.

1. Avoid the "keychain syndrome" when developing projects.
Martinez and Stager cite Paulo Blikstein for developing this term to describe what happens when students learn to use fabrication tools like 3D printers. The point of the project shouldn't be to learn how to use the equipment (though that is needed) but to use the equipment to create things of meaning to them.

2. Skip the preload.
Stager and Martinez remind us to avoid the temptation to take "just a minute" to explain how a program or tool works. That "just a minute" can quickly turn into 25 minutes of "how to" instruction that students don't need because they are more than willing to push buttons, flip switches, click menus, and generally explore without a fear of not knowing what will happen. I've been guilty of this in my practice and I'm trying to cut down my preload time as much as possible.

3. Collaboration comes in different forms. 
Collaboration doesn't have to mean two or more students working together for the duration of a project. It could be as simple as observing and asking questions of a peer or group of peers.

4. Good project prompts are short and sweet. 
Skip the long-winded "by the end of this project you will have done..." and give students prompts that are clear and concise. The prompt should also give students the flexibility to satisfy the prompt in the way that they see best. I've employed this strategy for years. My experience has been that students who are used to being told, "here's the rubric, here's what you need to get a good grade" will freak out and flounder for a while until they realize that they have the power to respond to the prompt in a manner of their own choosing.

5. Instruction is useful, not everything has to be "discovered" by students.
There is a temptation to make every learning experience about students "discovering" information. Sometimes direct instruction is needed and is just as useful as students discovering on their own. Stager and Martinez give this example,
There is no reason to discover the date of Thanksgiving when you can ask someone. Instruction is useful for learning things that would take an instant or when little benefit would be gained by investigating it yourself
Beyond the philosophical items that I've featured above, Invent to Learn is full of fantastic resources for anyone interested in using the concepts of the Maker Movement, 3D printing, and programming in their classrooms.

Six Tools for Creating Online Timelines - A Comparison Chart

Last winter I published a comparison of five tools for creating timelines. This week I updated that chart to include a timeline creation tool that I've come to love over the last seven months, HSTRY. You can read more about HSTRY and learn how to use it by clicking here. My updated chart is embedded below as a PDF. You can also view it here in Google Docs format.

Take a Virtual Tour of Mount Vernon

Around this time last year I shared an interactive map of George Washington's life. That map was produced by From the same organization comes a virtual tour of Mount Vernon.

The virtual tour of Mount Vernon features 54 parts of George Washington's estate. Each stop in the tour is an interactive image on which you will see pinpoints that you can click to read or watch a video to learn more about what you're seeing the picture. You can rotate each image 360 degrees. To navigate the tour you can either click the directional arrows in the images or select an feature of the estate from the drop-down menu at the top the virtual tour website.

Applications for Education
The virtual tour of Mount Vernon could be a good supplementary resource for elementary or middle school lessons about George Washington. The virtual tour also provides some glimpses into the living conditions of both wealthy 18th century citizens along with those of poor and or enslaved people living in Virginia in the 18th century.

Formative - Quickly Gather Responses Sketched by Students

A few weeks ago I published a review of a new assessment tool called Formative. One of the best features of Formative is the option to have students sketch responses to questions. They can sketch on their tablets, Chromebooks, or laptops and submit those sketches to you in realtime. In the video embedded below I provide a demonstration of how the draw responses function works in Formative.