Why, What and How

Why: There is intense value in igniting the unique spark within every learner.

How: We engage ignition giving learners various materials and encouragement to examine authentic problems allowing exploration of solutions.

What: Sparks turn to flames as we expose learners to maker mindsets and the power of voice within collaboration; Innovative solutions indefinitely created.

In between summer enrichment classes is a brief almost thirty-minute lunch break for the students and staff.  I sat down at a table in the loud lunch room next to 7th and 8th graders that are all glued to their cellphones either watching YouTube videos, texting and/or playing mindless games.  I have interacted with a few of them within my enrichment course but most I have not.  In either case, not one of them saw a reason to look up from their phones and acknowledge me during their time.  I brought a few logic puzzles and my graphing calculator to tinker my way through solutions (some for my own nerdy interest) but mostly because I want to make sure that I try things before I expose my students or children to them.  I started to eat my lunch and sat my “toys” next to me while I finished eating.

In an instance, the first spark was ignited and it took off from there.  The student next to me briefly turned and saw the logic puzzle then asked to try finding the solution.  The initially sparked student diligently worked on the puzzle with nearly successful outcomes each time.  As the student worked and reworked the puzzle to find the solution sparks began to be ignited like ripples in a pond along both sides of the lunch table.  Students put their phones down and focused on this puzzle then asked for the opportunity to try this puzzle or one like it.  I had two of them because I “borrowed” them from my own children (ages 9 and 6) who have solved them on their own many times.  The puzzles were simple handmade wood and plastic tinkering activities smaller than the size of a piece of notebook paper.

Intrigue turned into intrinsic motivation and suddenly everyone was engaged.  Although seemingly simple, the solution to each puzzle took more than logic as imagination was also necessary to solve each problem set creatively.  For the brief period allotted for the students to eat lunch they instead explored and tested solutions.  When they reached incomplete results they examined mistakes, thought about specific areas of improvement and tried again.  Students begin to compare the shapes of both puzzles then count them.  They asked if either puzzle was missing pieces and if there was anyone who had solved the puzzles.  I shared with them that the puzzles belong to my little boys and they had in fact solved them on their own.  I encouraged them to tinker with the puzzles employing the imagination used by my children.  I invited them to remove rigidity in their thinking allowing trial and error as they worked toward the solution.

Lunch time had come to an end and some students’ sparks were past the ignition stage.  They had not given up on a solution as they were motivated to succeed knowing that it was possible but had not happen yet.  Students began to converse offering alternative ideas but encouragement as well.  Once lunch time ended students were sent to their enrichment classes and I happen to receive most of the students I sat with during lunch.  They were told that I would be working with them on coding and programming but many of them had no clue of what my class would entail.  Students entered the class and saw not only my face but various “toys” spread out on tables for them tinker with.  They could not wait to make something given choices of material then the collaboration began as they voiced concerns, assumptions and solutions.  Little by little students were engulfed in maker mindsets that were inquisitive yet determined to create solutions to any one of the problem sets they chose.

By the end of our four day coding and programming class almost every student had chosen to work with all of the materials I sat out and problems that were presented to be solved.  Within the hour long session students were working on programming graphing calculators, coding in block, scratch and JavaScript as well.  I had other students who chose to apply the underlying skills sets of programming such as organization, patient problem solving and focus to also solve logic puzzles and circuitry projects.  Although problems became increasingly complex, the students’ sparks had been ignited and innovation of solutions filled the room with a collaborative interest and investment in the success of peers.

What if innovation was indefinite?  Would the problems of today be able to keep up with the solutions?  Would the problems of the future be problems for long?  Let’s set the stage for indefinite innovation.  My life, being inconclusive, needs the indefinite.

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