Think Like a Designer but Play and Explore too!

This week we have had time to play, investigate, poke, prod, and experiment. Students set up accounts on Scratch and then started to look at all of the options. Hey! You can make games with Scratch! Stories! Animations! Cool!

Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. It is a programming language and an online learning community where students can explore the world of code. They learn to think creatively and systematically. Plus, they can share their work online and join in the community of Scratch-ers all over the world.

I set up “play” time as part of our MYP Design Criterion A investigation of Scratch. I required students to look at each of the different types of products that could be created in Scratch, animations, art, games, music, and stories. They were required to also use the “see inside” button to expose the code. My goal was for them to experience the general environment and ecosystem of Scratch but also make connections with the work that they have already done in Turtle Art. See! If you can do Turtle Art you can do Scratch too!

I had no other requirements but within 10-15 minutes most of the students independently started to create their own games and stories. This was not part of the assignment! What to do when your assignment is open and goes a bit sideways on you? Hmmm… I chose to let things develop and let go of my expectations. The drive to make, create, construct was taking over and I observed that it was a natural extension of play and exploration.

The next class I asked students to write in their process journals about their time playing and exploring in Scratch. Almost all of the students said that it was fun. Even my concrete sequential students who always want step by step instructions said this. The other thing that showed up in their process journals was the expectation and excitement that they were going to get to make a game or story too.

Then I introduced the Design Cycle, Criterion A: Investigate and Analyze. I watched all of their expectation and excitement drain away. My students were willing to follow my task as designed and answer the questions that I assigned them. They dutifully tackled the work and asked me clarifying questions but there was no joy. It was just work to them. As a teacher I almost felt guilty.

At the end of the day I had mixed feelings about my design cycle assignment. I could not help feeling like I had broken a natural process.   I also felt that slowing down the process and making students think like a designer, architect, engineer or other maker had benefits. Down the road will I see the benefits of both approaches?

As a teacher I am trying to find the path where students are creating and making in Design class and being able to understand how to develop and improve their work using information and thinking processes that I structure as a teacher. I have not found the right balance yet.

Social Media Epidemic?


I found your post on Twitter to be provocative. It is a loaded question full of bias isn’t it? If you are a social scientist or a journalist it requires some deconstruction.

First, our environment is full of many stimuli and other factors that influence who we are and how we behave. Social media is only one factor, and as such, should not be given more weight than other factors or stimuli. The same is true of books.

Second, Epidemic: a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. Or, a sudden, widespread occurrence of an undesirable phenomenon. – according to the world wide web.

As an educator and parent I sometimes experience “undesirable phenomenon” in my relationships with my students and my children related to their use of social media however I still do not think the influence of social media is greater or more important than other factors. It annoys me when they leave their bags in the middle of the floor for people to trip over! Truly an epidemic! Someone should teach these kids some basic organization skills! At my current school I could say there is an epidemic of poor writing. Poor writing is an undesirable phenomenon. I spend quite a bit of time trying to “cure” or treat poor writing.

So the question becomes – How do I deal with undesirable phenomenon as a teacher and parent?

The first requirement is to observe. We need to be observant of the environment and culture that we are in. What is it like in the global, regional, and local? We also need to recognize that culture is dynamic and always changing.

Once we have made our observations, as teachers, as schools, as parents we need evaluate our findings. What is happening? Where is it going?

Then, whats the plan? Are we going to embrace these changes or are we going to fight them? Are we going to leverage them to our benefit or stifle them for our benefit?

As a teacher and parent I worry much more about all of the age old concerns about young people. Are they eating, sleeping, getting exercise? Are their families involved in their lives. Do they have the support they need? Are they being kind to one another? Is any of their behavior dangerous (cry for help)?

Now back to the question. Social media is allowing students an ease of communication that past generations never had but would have embraced if they did have it I think. So what we have is increased/enhanced communication. Overall, I think this is a positive for students as it allows them to interact with their peer groups and pursue their interests in a way that was impossible for past generations. Young people are not as isolated.

As a teacher I need to manage class time and student activity that results in learning. For the most part I do a good job with this. Does Skype chat sometimes pop up on my students computers? Yes. I need to manage this. Usually, I just need to ask to student to focus on the work at hand. Thats it. Problem over. Just like any other potential problem.

It is clear to me though that we have clear divides in our schools today. We have teachers who are changing with the times and we have teachers that are not. The ones who are not are having the hardest time managing social media, media in general, computer use, and access to information outside the classroom. I feel bad for them. I am sure technology feels like an illness to them. It feels like an undesirable phenomenon. But, that really is the teachers problem, not the students.

I have always enjoyed the work of Dr. Michael Wesch and find his insight on technology and culture to be informative in understanding what is going on with our changing culture and technology.

Dubbed “the prophet of an education revolution” by the Kansas City Star and “the explainer” by Wired Magazine, Wesch is a recipient of the highly coveted “US Professor of the Year”

I hope I have lent something to the discussion you hoped to have!