Thing 37: Green Screen Fun

The Rochester International Academy library is often full of middle school students at lunch. While they are from many different cultures, one glue that binds these 11 – 13 year-olds together is their reliance on their cell phones. They use them to translate, schedule, update, draft and DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT. And by document, I mean take pictures. SnapChat, Instagram, uploaded selfies….these students are creating and sharing image content throughout their day.

How better to tap into that youthful enthusiasm than by building a lesson around green screens? I installed the Do Ink app on my phone and was surprised at how easy it was to use. Within five minutes, Harry and Meghan had an unexpected guest at their nuptials:

I used a green screen clipped to a bookshelf for my image. I guess my turquoise flower was a little too close to the green tone since it was “green screened” out above.

I next tried using Microsoft Publisher to put me inside the actual chapel but had the opposite problem with my green screen. I believe some shadows differentiated my green screen enough that I couldn’t make it fully transparent. If I had more time, I would play with different lighting. In a pinch, I could always erase the remaining green screen in Microsoft Paint, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a green screen, doesn’t it? I used a picture of St. George’s Chapel I found on the Library of Congress website.

Original Image Source: Bain News Service, Publisher. St. George’s Chapel. [Between and Ca. 1920] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

I tested out some of the video backgrounds from Do Ink with students today, and they enjoyed them. As we were creating, I started thinking about how this hands-on activity would be a great lead-in for a lesson on website evaluation or internet safety. They would have real world experience manipulating images. It wouldn’t be much of a leap for them to think of how someone might do this for nefarious reasons.

I also see how working with a green screen might help our students in their other academic subjects. A fellow teacher and I discussed having students in a science class point out features in different body systems that are projected behind them on a green screen. They could make a video in both English and their other languages. This resource could be used in future science classes. We are enthusiastically planning to complete this before the end of the school year.

Thing 45 – Anything Goes Google

This year, our school moved from 1:1 iPads to 1:1 Google Chromebooks. Initially, it was challenging because many of us had fully integrated the iPads into our classroom curriculum. Students became adept at apps that we used across classrooms and so did teachers. We spent the summer and beginning of the year retooling for the Chromebooks. Teachers embarked on hours of online professional development to learn how to manage Chromebooks in the classroom, how to employ features of the GSuite and how to use Google Classroom on the Chromebooks.

The transition was smooth but not seamless:

  • Where can I find my lost app functionality?
  • Why can’t I save anything on a Chromebook?
  • What is the point of collaborating on a document when students keep erasing each other’s work?

The latter half of the year, though, we really turned the corner. We have replicated most app functionality with cloud-based tools (and we did get an iPad cart or two back), we understand the enormous strength of the cloud-based Google Drive and students aren’t inadvertently vandalizing their group work (perhaps, most importantly, when it happens we all understand it was most likely an accident).

I took a look at Thing 45 – Anything Goes Google to find tools, tips and tricks that I could share with teachers at an upcoming PD workshop. Here are the things I plan to include:

  • Google Keep – How did I not know about this tool before? I can’t wait to share the note-taking feature with fellow teachers. This will be a huge time-saver and work right into our research flow. Our current methods are less than ideal especially considering Keep’s collaborating feature. Nearly all our projects include a group work component and this enables the whole group to have access to the members’ notes. The GPS reminder feature is also helpful. The tagging feature helps students organize all the tasks for different project that might be in progress concurrently. I really like the idea of using Keep to track Learning Targets for a unit as well. Some of our students struggle with organizing daily tasks and Keep can help them build a checklist to keep (see what I did there?) them on track.
  • Drive Slides – This is a simple concept but a nice little tool for creating a Google Slides deck from a Google Drive folder of images. I could see our students using it.
  • Google Sheets – I wasn’t aware of the random generator feature in Sheets. I think the most valuable Sheets tool mentioned in the reading, though, is the database of information. It is a helpful place to store information. I would take it one step further, though, and have students add to the Sheet via a Google Form.
  • Google Sites – I love the idea of having students create a website to showcase their hard work on a research project. The redesigned tool looks much easier to navigate than its predecessor.

I am most interested in moving forward with Google Sites training for our teachers. Self-publishing would enable our students to broaden their academic conversations to the wider global community. A prerequisite for this work would be a brief follow-up on Internet safety with the students.

Thing 11: DIY – You Pick!

I help lead a Rotary Interact after school club. We start vegetable plants from seed in our school greenhouse and then donate them to people who rent garden plots in community gardens in our region. We also grow sunflowers from seed and offer them at our local Public Market in exchange for a donation. The students then send the proceeds to an international aid organization. Some past recipients have been United Nations High Commission on Refugees, the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

As you can imagine, coordinating our greenhouse effort is challenging. There are many dependencies and potential issues that need to be managed in order to ensure we are able to deliver vegetable and sunflower plants on time. In the past, all this work was done by our club advisers with students implementing plans developed by the adults.

This year, we made it a priority to have the students take a larger role in the planning and execution of these projects. I was lucky enough to attend ALA Midwinter this year and learned about Google Applied Digital Skills. It offers a free curriculum with lesson plans and video instruction aimed at providing technical tools to solve real-world problems. One of the presenters at ALA Midwinter mentioned it was a great fit for people learning English because you can pause, slow down and caption the videos. After evaluating it on my own, I asked our Interact Officers if they would be interested in using the “Plan an Event” curriculum to help them plan their sunflower sales.

I started using the curriculum in March. Students were engaged in the videos because they could understand them and they could see how these tools would immediately impact our project. A couple of students assumed leadership roles by running the videos, pausing them every few minutes to check for understanding and assigning students to complete the tasks. I very quickly moved from leading the program to becoming a coach supporting students on the sidelines. Students went from never using Google Sheets to creating a task list to manage the project. They had never used Google Drawing before and finished the course with a completed logo that they used to brand all their communications. They had never before created a flyer but had used Google Docs. They were able to create a great marketing piece to support their sale.

As you can see in the photos below, my students worked together on the units. They watched the videos in a group and then worked together to complete the assignments.

Students worked collaboratively through the videos on the big screen.

Students helped each other work through the assignments.

In addition to leading the course, these tools enabled students to lead the club more independently. They now owned the schedule because they created it and assigned peers to own certain tasks. They also were able to easily see how these same tools they used for “Plan an Event” could be used for other purposes. The course helped to integrate technology into all aspects of our club. For example, we started using Google Maps to more efficiently organize our students’ rides to the Public Market but having volunteers concentrate on only one area of the city. We thought about other task lists we could create for the club besides just planning sunflower sales. The students decided next year they could plan all of our plantings using these tools.

My high school students didn’t even realize we were following a course. They started to view the video presenter as a member of their team. They already go to YouTube to watch how-to videos (how-to fix a bike chain, how-to fix a problem with their sink) and saw this as an extension of that process.


Thing 35 – Supporting English Language Learners

I have been the librarian at Rochester International Academy for six years. All of our students are English Language Learners and nearly all have refugee status. Many of our students have limited or no formal education before attending our school. After reflecting on 10 Ways to Support ELLs in the School Library, I have my own 10 ways to add to Ms. Jules’ list.

  1. Visual Dewey – If the non-fiction section is organized by Dewey, consider how you can visually represent the subjects. For example, I have a small giraffe statue on the shelf at the end of the books on giraffes, a small model airplane on the shelf where books about airplanes can be found and a poster of Lionel Messi above the soccer shelf. Three dimensional objects help especially for students with limited formal education.
  2. Google Expeditions – One of our best months was the month we borrowed a Google Expeditions Virtual Reality kit. Students were able to explore museums from their home countries and introduce us to key artifacts. Others climbed to the top of Sagarmāthā (Mount Everest in English). We explored biomes, space and Machu Picchu to supplement classroom lessons. When you are learning a new language, it is helpful to receive information in multiple modalities and virtual reality was very engaging for my students.
  3. Dedicated keyboards – Did you know you can purchase stickers to turn your keyboard into an English and Arabic keyboard? I worked with our IT department to create a toggle so our students can easily output Arabic from the keyboard. This is helpful since many of our Arabic-speaking students are literate in Arabic and enables them to use more easily use Arabic websites, email fellow Arabic students and use Google Translate.
  4. Have you seen Hafuboti’s awesome “Libraries Are for Everyone” graphics? They are available in many different languages and can be downloaded for free. Our students provided a few translations Hafuboti did not have and within a day there were new graphics in those languages available. Hafuboti gave me permission to use the graphics to create shirts for my student library helpers in each of their languages. Some of our local public library branches display posters with the graphic, and we saw them in the library on a visit to our local community college. It’s such a welcoming and inclusive message.

  5. Librarians and teachers often call me to find materials in languages other than English for their students who are learning English. I recognize that my school is unique in that many of my students have limited or interrupted formal education. Many times the first language a student will learn to read is English so materials in other languages are not helpful unless their parents can read and share the content. It is helpful to have material that is read aloud or recorded in other languages, though.
  6. Google Translate is not a perfect translation, but it is often good enough to convey a message. The “listen” feature is helpful for our students who don’t read their other language (see immediately above).
  7. Many of my students have never experienced a culture with freedoms that we have in the United States. They may have never had access to information like we have in the library. I explicitly teach them about the First Amendment, and its impact on library services during their first visit to the library. We also discuss how our libraries may have content that their culture does not agree with and how to proceed with using the library if this is a concern (hint: your librarian can help!).
  8. If you are looking for diverse books, take a peek at Lee & Low’s offerings. We have found some of our school’s favorites there. 
  9. We had a temporary subscription to the the Arabic World Book referenced in Ms. Jules’ post. My Arabic-literate students felt it was very simple content and not sophisticated enough for their searching needs. Hopefully, World Book will offer an Arabic version that is closer to World Book Kids or World Book Student.
  10. Often, when educators ask me what they can do to support their English Language Learners, they seem to be viewing them from a deficit lens. They describe the challenges of working with students who know little English and have limited education. I see my students in a completely opposite way. Our diverse population has taught me so much about perseverance, persistence and tenacity Many have experience meeting their basic needs in a refugee camp via “make-do’s” – a homemade solar oven, sophisticated water collection systems, their shelter. In other words, they are the perfect candidates to take a leadership role in our makerspaces!

Thing 16: Bitmoji Fun

I initially struggled to create a Bitmoji login but eventually was able to do so via the provided link:

I logged in and created my own avatar. It was a little weird adding wrinkles to myself. The result is much more accurate than it would be without them!

Next, I installed the Bitmoji Chrome extension and played with the Bitmoji search in gmail. I love how easy it is to create and insert avatars such as these below and anticipate using them with students.


I was most interested in the Bitmoji Google slides comics. A teacher recently asked me how to build a comic strip using our Chromebooks, and this is a viable option. We previously used Comic Life on PCs, and he wanted a similar tool but for the Chromebook. I forwarded the link to the “Creating Comics to Google Slides” post. He agrees it will be a great tool.

I tried having students create their own avatars in one of my after school coding clubs that serves 5th – 12th grade students. We discussed what an avatar is and how it could be used in school projects. The students were excited to create their own alter egos. Because of the warning about Bitmoji having some mature material available, I instead used with the students. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the same dynamic functionality but it served the purpose. Here are a few of the students’ avatars:

As educators, we have to be mindful of guarding our students’ identities especially as they become website authors and active on social media. I would like the students in my after school program to create a website and feel more comfortable with them including these avatars on the “About the Author” page as opposed to the students using actual pictures of themselves.

Thing 11: DIY – You Pick!

For this Thing, I dove deep into planning for a collaborative June project for our 7th and 8th graders. The unofficial theme is “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I will be working with their Math, Science and ESOL teachers. The students will be applying what they’ve learned in recent science lessons (specifically, Motion and Stability) and math lessons (rate per minute, cost and volume). I will be introducing them to the Design Process (Next Generation Science Standards for Engineering Design). Their ESOL teacher will be working with them on academic language specifically needed for actively communicating during the Brainstorm and Presentation for Feedback portions of the Design Process.


The coolest part about this project is they will have no idea that we are doing this heavy academic lifting on all of these standards! Why? BECAUSE THEY THINK ALL THEY ARE DOING IS PLAYING WITH, DESIGNING AND BUILDING FIDGET SPINNERS!!!! HA – HA!!!!

With a few years of teaching under my belt, I realize we have to meet them where they are. And they are fidgeting. Mightily. Spring brought spinning and dropping and competing and twirling and hiding and giggling and more spinning. I decided to harness this energy rather than fight it so I recruited my two most prolific spinners and ran this project by them. They whooped! They hollered! I reminded them we were in the library. They smiled. Widely. Next, we approached their teachers. Thankfully, everyone is on board (although the students might be slightly more on board than their teachers). The students have stopped by the library at least four times a day since learning about the project to ask when we are getting started. Thanks to this Thing, I can now confidently say the first week in June. They still keep coming back though. That’s ok because their enthusiasm is contagious which is good because this is a huge project to plan.

I plan to introduce them to the following iterative Design Process steps. I’ve included some accompanying questions and ideas to begin organizing the project.

  1. Define the Problem – What makes a great fidget spinner? If you were competing to create the “best” fidget spinner, what qualities would make one win over another (cost, speed, ability to do tricks, profitability, etc.)?
  2. Collect Information – What is the rate per minute of each of our sample spinners? Using information you’ve learned on motion, why are some faster than others? How much material do they require? Dissect one. What are the parts? What does each part do? What can they be made of? Have you learned anything that causes you to want to redefine the problem? Go online and look at some existing 3d designs (Thingiverse has many). Look at the comments.
  3. Brainstorm – Use academic language to conduct a brainstorming session with your team. What is good about these different designs? What could be improved? Where will we build it? What material would we need? How much will it cost to build?
  4. Develop Model – I anticipate most students will choose to use our 3d printers for their projects. We have used 3d Slash and TinkeCad for past projects. Depending on their intended design, though, we might need a more sophisticated tool. I took a look at Autodesk Inventor and think that will work for the spinner designs. Next, I need to work with IT to get it installed on the library computer lab computers.
  5. Present for Feedback – Use academic language to present and provide feedback to other teams. What makes a good presentation? What makes feedback useful?
  6. Improve Design – Go back to any of the above steps if your design requires improvement.

For step two, I’ve amassed a large collection of the toys by visiting our local grocery store daily and elbowing out every preteen at the spinner display. I also asked my two student co-planners if they would donate their spinners to us for a few days. They said yes. Other classes are starting to hear about the project and students are offering up their spinners for science. It is inspiring.

I’m energized and looking forward to June!





Thing 14: News Literacy

I am a K-12 librarian in a school where all students are newcomers to the United States who speak languages other than Spanish and English.  Nearly all of our students have refugee status. Many have had interrupted, limited or no previous schooling. Many have lived in countries without the freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Most are surprised to learn they may check out any book in our library. Freedom of Information is a new concept for many of them as well.

News literacy is extremely challenging to teach to students who are still developing basic literacy and academic endurance. Nevertheless, social media is popular with many of our students, and I am concerned they may be taken advantage of. Therefore, it is important for me to launch a defense against untrustworthy content. In the past, I have extensively modified California State University Chico’s CRAAP test (actually we only use a CRAP) test and had high school students with the highest English proficiency and most years of formal education attempt to determine whether a website was real or a hoax using this tool. To give some context, my first slide in any CRAP lesson is a picture of an elephant next to elephant dung and the command – “Circle the CRAP.” I then circle the dung so students are able to appreciate the double entendre provided by the acronym. And as a bonus I am teaching them a new English word. 🙂

Despite formative assessments indicating they understand the our version of CRAP’s evaluation criteria (Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose), the students consistently and overwhelmingly determine that all websites they review are credible despite the fact that 80% of them are hoax sites. Our debrief reveals that it is very difficult to discern purpose when presented with content in a language that is new.

I reviewed the resources in this Thing through this lens. I began exploring by reading Joyce Valenza’s comprehensive “Truth, Truthiness and Triangulation” and reviewing her recommended resources. Enticed by the promise of material in multiple languages, I downloaded the Center for Media Literacy’s  materials. Since many of my students were not literate before they began learning English at our school, printed material in multiple languages is not as big of a need as most would think. That being said, the only language CML offers that some of my students can read is Arabic. When I looked at the English version, though, I determined it would need some modifications to make it easier to impart on my students. I prefer the simplicity of CRAP.

I took a look at Amy Gillespie’s FART test to see if that might work better for our students (did I just type that?). I do think it is simpler and might be a better tool for our younger students. BONUS: THEY WILL LEARN YET ANOTHER NEW ENGLISH WORD! Mental Note: I might need to use Audio files instead of the elephant picture. Kathy Schrock’s “5 W’s of Website Evaluation” might be a good choice especially if I learn that students are using the 5 W’s in another class as well.

I decided to try another approach with a class I taught last week. This high school class has lower English proficiency and less formal education than the ones who have learned CRAP (I’m surprised this still isn’t getting old for me). They were doing a research project on extreme weather and needed to find a news article that detailed a recent storm. Rather than teach evaluation, I explained how difficult it is for students who are learning English to find trustworthy information on Google. I explained how anyone can make a website. Then I introduced them to one of my favorite sites that is referenced in Thing 14 – NEWSELA.

While I had looked at NEWSELA before with individual students, I had never used it with a class. Signing the class up for accounts was one of the easiest processes I have experienced. This class is on Google Classroom. The teacher simply indicated which class was hers and automatically all students were added to NEWSELA. I only had to explain that they needed to login to NEWSELA with their Google account information. The keyword search was very easy to use. Because of the consistent presentation of NEWSELA articles, it was very easy for students to identify citation components in these articles.  This is yet another very difficult challenge when doing research in a new language and culture (author names can be especially challenging for newcomers to our culture and publication dates are often difficult to identify as well). I would definitely recommend using NEWSELA’s reputable content when working with students who are learning English.



Thing 38: Augmented and Virtual Reality

I appreciated learning the difference between augmented reality (like the Google Translate app we use here frequently at school) and virtual reality (like Google Cardboard) from Steven Anderson’s podcast interview. I took a look at some of the 360 videos (Buckingham Palace was my favorite) and see how they could be used for a virtual field trip. Last year, much of my MinecraftEdu work with students has focused on passively touring the Eric Walker’s Wonderful World of Humanities. Sometimes we would pair this with an on-point scavenger hunt to encourage students to explore the world. This seems similar to activities you could do with a 360 video field trip.

I also appreciated the message in “The ‘Minecraft Effect’? Educators Hope to Move Students from VR Consumption to Creation.” Towards the end of the year last year, a colleague and I worked with her third grade class to create a virtual reality community in MinecraftEdu as a culminating project for their Communities unit. The students were so engaged in creating their own community that even a year later students from that class request that I open their community on the server during open library so they can continue creating.

Inspired by that success and “The ‘Minecraft Effect’?” reading, I worked with different classes this month as they created culminating virtual reality projects in MinecraftEdu. One class created Machu Picchu and then gave a formal presentation of their part of the project to the class.

This student is describing the terraces she helped build with her group.

This student is describing the temple he built with his group.

Another class researched different deserts and then created a path with Information Blocks describing various aspects of their desert. This was like a virtual reality research paper in MinecraftEdu.

I’m working with another teacher as she designs a huge unit on explorers culminating in the creation of the explorers’ world in Minecraft focusing on the three G’s – Gold, God and Glory.

These are my takeaways from creating virtual reality in MinecraftEdu:

  1. Rubrics are essential to ensure students, teachers (and librarians!) stay focused on the goals of the project. It is very easy to go rogue on a project like this.
  2. Checklists can also help students stay on task (“By the end of the day, you should have completed this, this and this.”)
  3. Recognize MinecraftEdu can be overwhelming to new students (and teachers). Spend a day acclimating them to the features in an existing world before embarking on a complex creation project (The Wonderful World of Humanities has an awesome Treehouse Tutorial area for this).
  4. Be an active participant in the world with the students. Fly around and actively monitor what each of your students are doing. Only then can you see that one student hasn’t moved in fifteen minutes because he doesn’t understand how the keyboard commands work.
  5. If you are working in groups, make sure you provide individual roles or assignments and require that every group member serve one of the roles or complete one of the assignments. This is especially important if you have a Minecraft expert in a group. It is very easy for that person to get so involved that she takes over all the group work.
  6. Classroom management is required in virtual reality just like it is in reality. For example, set expectations early on that vandalizing is not tolerated. If someone is found to vandalize another’s work, border blocks can be used as a very effective virtual “time-out.” No one wants to hang out in the border blocks.
  7. Not everyone likes MinecraftEdu. Our experience has been that about one person in each class gets sick working with the tool. Have a differentiated assignment or role in mind in case you have a similarly afflicted student in your class. It should be fun, not torture, for every single student.
  8. The best virtual reality projects start with a research component with library resources (shameless plug but also true). You can create a more authentic virtual reality if you are using vetted resources to learn about your location.
  9. Incorporate reading, writing and speaking wherever you can. We use sign blocks and information blocks throughout our designs to convey written information. We also finished each project with a tour of the world led by those students who created it.
  10. Never give out bedrock. No matter how much they beg-just don’t do it. It is a headache.

Thing 27: Power Up Your Browser

I took a look at my Google Chrome settings. There weren’t any surprises there. I spent most of my time exploring different Chrome Extensions. Based on recommendations in the articles, I installed Google Translate, Newsela, Screencastify and WeVideo. I also installed Storybird since that is a tool a use with classes. Finally, I installed Destiny Discover.

I will focus on Destiny Discover for this blog post since it is the extension I played with the most. I love the idea of a Google search returning vetted library resources before the official Google results list. It seems like the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” philosophy – put your resources where people are rather than retrain people to search vetted resources first.

I spent some time this summer setting up Destiny OneSearch so it could be a one-stop-shop for our student researchers. All our students are learning English and many of these new arrivals have very limited or no computers skills. It’s a tough enough prospect to learn how to log into the computer. Once I start complicating the situation with numerous paid database logins and passwords, many of my students become frustrated.

To combat this password overload, I changed everyone’s Destiny passwords so they match the students’ network passwords (less to remember!). This year, I taught (and re-taught) many classes how to access Destiny Discover (OneSearch) and search all our paid databases, books and ebooks from one keyword search. I’m proud to say, it really has become the ubiquitous search for most students.

Those I haven’t yet reached, though, still run to Google first. For those students, I took a closer look at the Destiny Discover extension. While it does return our library resources first, it takes a very long time for the results to appear. This lag is sure to frustrate students who have used Google before; they will definitely notice much slower performance. Because the Destiny section fills with results so slowly, it almost looks like the computer is frozen.

While I hesitate to roll it out to our lab computers or student chromebooks, I do plan to keep the Destiny Discover extension on my computer. Sometimes when I’m doing a quick Google search, it reminds me of a complementary resource that I can suggest from our library to answer a colleague or student’s question. It is helpful for my practice, but it is not yet ready for primetime at school.

Thing 26: Makerspaces

What a difference two years makes! I explored this topic in 2015 when I was just starting to toy with the idea of developing a makerspace program in our school library. That initial vision has become a reality. Last year, I worked with a fellow librarian to create a proof-of-concept makerspace for our district called a Makerspace-to-Go. It is similar to the Maker Tubs described in David Romano’s presentation linked from Thing 26. This mobile makerspace is shared by libraries in our district and was funded using a grant from the Harold Hacker Foundation. It is comprised of two very large plastic totes that contain all sorts of makerspace activities including a MakerBot Mini 3d printer and filament, Lego EV3 Robotics Kit, art supplies, tanagrams, magnetic poetry, origami kits and drawing books. Our grant budget was $2500 and our library system kicked in additional funding to purchase related eBooks that could be shared across the district (robotics, origami and coding are some of the topics of our eBooks).

While modest compared to many other programs, our Makerspace-to-Go was an invaluable step for our makerspace program. Previously, when I discussed makerspace programs with fellow teachers, many seemed to not be able to conceptualize what I was talking about. Once the teachers engaged with the materials in our makerspace professional development, they became huge advocates for us securing a permanent makerspace.

In fact, one teacher became so invested that he ended up ultimately securing a larger grant that funded most of our makerspace big ticket items. We built a permanent makerspace that includes two 3-D printers, Little Bits, a MinecraftEdu server and 25 licenses. We also have Ozobots, drones, art supplies, a bicycle fix-it kit and some light construction material. Our administrator gave us permission to empty a large textbook room in the library (prime real estate with huge windows in a very crowded school) and use it as our permanent makerspace.

The video about Castle Rock Middle School’s Learning Commons was inspiring. Our current furniture does not work well with our new tools. It feels very crowded in our library spaces. I would like to work on a grant for more flexible furniture like what is shown in the video. In addition, I would like to add a Chromebook cart.

The School Library Journal article “How to Ensure that Making Leads to Learning” provided some good insight on productive failure. A sixth grade teaching team and I designed a makerspace project for their simple machine curriculum that employed productive failure. After briefly learning about the simple machines, students were tasked with using makerspace materials and at least one simple machine to solve a problem in the classroom. After much trial and error experimentation, students designed amazing solutions such an elaborate pulley system made out of cardboard and clothesline so the teacher could close the back door when it was a little loud in the hallway.

We taught students the design process and provided them with table tents with suggestions for engaging all students in the brainstorming process but then we stood back and let the students lead the project. At first, many struggled but eventually all found their way.

My favorite part of the process was when students brought their proposed solutions to other groups for review and critique. All of our students are English as a New Language students and academic discussions can be challenging. We provided them with cards that included sentence starters (“I like your idea because____”, “Did you think about trying this _____”, etc.) and key vocabulary words to support them. They were so motivated by the project and this motivated them to have those higher level design discussions in English. We have seen a similar thread throughout many of our makerspace projects.