Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Robotics with Mindstorm and Creative Learning

The Lego Mindstorm Robotics System has been around for quite some time.  Legos are imaginative and creativity and in it's own inner changeable brick system of engineering it inspires and motivates learners to create and learn, no lesson plan needed. Part of the open endness of Lego NXT and EV3 bricks is you can just put them out and let the kids go and they will learn.  For many teachers this allow of authentic learning is difficult.  Plenty of well meaning but limited educators take an open-ended item like Legos and use it to force a set of lessons and projects on kids.  Forced or structured creativity.  I love to set up the environment and get out the way.  If the kids need help programing or finding a part I am there for them.  Other wise I sort and let my son go. Sometimes he may want to try a project but usually he just does his own design. You have to see that learning happens through play and allow for the child to unfold and learning through their own process of trial and error.  With Lego the control is built into the widget you make.  If it works or if it fails to you learn. 
My son has had free range over Mindstorm for 5 years.  This year we hired a tutor who show us some programing  on NXT Lego Mindstorm brick.  While my son is very creative and able to design Lego projects his tutor has been able to teach him some basic brick programming with the Mindstorm software.  My son wanted to make a claw grabber and had a book that helped him.  Our tutor didn't want to do this but did turn it into a programing lesson.  The instructor was stuck on having my son do his created lesson and had a hard time letting go of his learning plan and allowing my son to create his own projects.  The Tutor did adapted a bit and was able to show Conor more programing on the projects that Conor found meaningful. They have used many learning concepts of programming the sensors and experimenting by adjusting the robot to react to light by picking up with a claw which has a sensor in it to grab an egg and releasing it.  The claw robot's sensor has to be adjusted to the reflected light off of the egg and react to different lighting outside in order to clamp down. This activity took time and work to get right.
Here they are learning about programming the NXT brick and controlling the sensors.
Building the claw robot and learning about taking risk and how mistakes in design teach us how to get things right.  Our tutor was not use to the autistic mind but was fairly patient and seems to enjoy this process with his learner.
To understand learning creativity takes time and playing with your design is important to the process of making.  Yes as an educator i can step in and fix a design, making the project mind in the process, but what is my fixing the mistake teaching the kid?  The goal is for the learner to be involved in the process.  A great educator knows when to step back and allow learning to happen.
The goal isn't just the Widget, it's the process of making.
Every week this tutor brought a cool project over.  My son didn't always want to do what his tutor brought over for him.  Sometimes they had fun. Here they are building a structure out of newspapers and learning what shapes support the structure and how form and balance are required in adding one more section.  This project was part of a marble run made from newspapers and tape.
Here my son is problem solving by taking apart the claw robot to fix an area that needed restructuring to work.  More learning through mistakes. This project took a few weeks.  Below is Conor's marble run,  made with box, tape and straws, brought over by the tutor. Later below more building to happen over Thanksgiving weekend with older sisters visit with partner.
Out came and old marble run toy and the marble run structure continued with more building.
The original marble run project made of boxes, tape, straws and paint chip samples.
More learning with great open ended tools in an environment and let them go.  They are their own teachers.
We all learn by playing.  My adult children all remarked on how they would have loved to have learned this way, and how their life's would have been so different if they had had this learning space and an educator who let them learn this way.  They plan to give this gift of learning style to their children.  I think as an educator that recognition means more to me than anything.  Smiles and engagement in the activity mean the joy of learning is happening in our school room.
Unfortunately these structures got thrown way when the garage got cleaned out but the possibilities of it were limitless and the project can be recreated again. Imagine, create, play, share, think, recreate and play some more.  Our never ending spiral of learning creativity.
The mineshaft climber was another project created. Often these projects are abandoned after a short while but there is value in every step of the process of learning. It all matters.
I am grateful for and thankful for our grant through the Arizona State's Empowerment Scholarship Program that makes buying these materials possible.  My son and my life will be forever altered by this grant.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Big Slice of Life with Autism on the Side

I don't like labels.  Silly words we use to classify and sort ourselves and others in to little neat packages to put ourselves into tidy little slots.
I am a reader and fastidious researcher.  I have stayed up researching all night long sometimes just for fun.  I like it.  I tend to dive into researching and when my son was at four years of age diagnosed with autism I was a researcher on a mission.  I went at it in a multi-layered way. I read medical journals, joined Aspies for Freedom forum, went to conferences, and read books and combed search engines for any information.  It has taken me years to gather and understand what is autism and how to think about "autism" and what that means with my son now.  He keeps growing and changing and showing me more things that are so much more than a one word label for who he is.  Many of the things I see him do few other people ever see.  You can't ever assume you know what is going between another person's ears.  No one can say I am an expert in autism and objectively say they understand autism in all it's shapes and forms.  Austism continues to blow me away with all its many facets and nuances.
 I myself had been labeled as learning disabled so I came from a first person narrative of what it is to be labeled with a negative tittle.  Dyslexia was something I knew I had but not something I really suffered from like a disease or condition.  Like being left handed it just meant I had to adjust and find an alternative ways to get from point A to point B.  I knew teachers didn't know what to do with me.  I knew I did not test well.  I knew I frustrated them and they did not think I could read and comprehend what I read.   I had a hard time showing them on paper what I knew as a child.   I also knew I could read and loved the written word and had a almost photographic memory of what I saw and heard.  I just could not remember how to spell.  I knew what the educational system thought of me was not even close to a reflection of what was going on between my ears at a very early age.  I learned early that people who are supposedly experts in education are very limited in their understand of how we learn. No one can see what is happening cognitively in another persons head and meta cognitively we are all very different. Not only are our brains different chemically but we all learn differently too.  I grew up in a time when educators didn't know much about different kinds of learners or differentiated      learning /multiple intelligence and I was just ignored and dismissed. I knew they couldn't see me and that change my perception of the experts being capable.  When my son was given a diagnosis of Autism by a developmental psychiatrist I didn't feel like that was a horrible thing.  I never thought of myself as disabled and it never occurred to me to think of my son as anything but who he was, and still is, a beautiful boy.
Through the years this philosophy of seeing my son as differently abled has taken me to some very interesting places. Sometimes I have left quickly and walked away because the table isn't ready for us or even the more hurtful we are not wanted at the table.  More and more I find we are happier and more fulfilled at our own table creating our own happy and doing our own thing.


Actress Mayim Bialik (who plays Amy Farrah-Fowler on TBBT) was being interviewed by Neil DeGrasse Tyson when he asked her about the speculation of Sheldon's label. She gave a response that Radio Times lauded as “Brilliant”. She said,
“All of our characters are in theory on the neuropsychiatric spectrum, I would say, Sheldon often gets talked about in terms of Asperger’s or OCD. He has a thing with germs, he has a thing with numbers, he’s got a lot of that precision that we see in OCD. There’s a lot of interesting features to all of our characters that make them technically unconventional socially…
I think what’s interesting and kind of sweet and what should not be lost on people is we don’t pathologise our characters. We don’t talk about medicating them or even really changing them.
And I think that’s what’s interesting for those of us who are unconventional people or who know and love people who are on any sort of spectrum, we often find ways to work around that. It doesn’t always need to be solved and medicated and labelled.
And what we’re trying to show with our show is that this is a group of people who likely were teased, mocked, told that they will never be appreciated or loved, and we have a group of people who have successful careers, active social lives (that involve things like Dungeons and Dragons and video games), but they also have relationships, and that’s a fulfilling and satisfying life.”



It is one thing to see yourself as whole and well.  It's is harder to get the world to treat you as being whole and well. Life isn't a carefully constructed TV show  with a safe set and actors who are not on the spectrum  acting like they are.  I love the perspective. Life, camera, action in the neuro typical world isn't choreographed for such a seamless existence.   Label or no label I and my son are different.  Our learning styles, our sensitivity and our perspective makes us different not broken.  Part of the journey for any human is survival, pursuing happiness and self improvement.  So basic needs and desires are the same for us as they are for anyone.  While my son learns to live with his shape and shade of personhood and adjust to life in all it's rapidly changing incarnations he will have to come to his own terms and identity as to what his life with autism on side will look like for him. It is my job to support, encourage and hand him more paints and brush if he looses his way. He gets to paint the picture and it can and will be anything he chooses to create.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Have Fun and Learn- Christmas Break Extended Learning Projects.



My biggest job as an educator and parent is to create and model the joy of learning to my students.  One of my most  favorite courses that I took at the university level was Massachusetts Institute of Technology's “Learning Creative Learning” class.  This was a free online course at MIT”S Open Courseware.  Here’s that link for anyone interested in taking the course. HERE

What really made an impression on me about learning creative learning was that learning is playing and having fun.  Professor Mitch Resnick, one of the courses creators used a model of a Life Long Sandbox of learning and spoke of that when we open the walls of our classroom and raise the ceiling to allow more learners in we create a space for the joy of creative learning. This is part of MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten idea that changed the way I thought about learning.  This course shows a diagram of how we learn creativity but this model works for more than just creative learning.  It carries over to all subjects that are project based or group lead.  It goes well with the Bloom’s Taxonomy described HERE

In a nut shell.

We learn in these steps.

Imagine:  We think of an idea, we conceptualizes, we imagine an idea.
Create:    We make the idea, we draw, we build, we make.
Play:        We use the idea or the object we make and we experiment how it works.
Share:      We show it to the group, peers or our family, we get feed back, we let others help create.
    
    Sometimes our project doesn’t work and/or it gets knocked down which leads us to the next step.

Reflect:     We think about what went wrong and what worked and what we can do better
Imagine:    We recreate fix and make our ideas better.
 
This model of how we learn is flow chart that continues in a circle or spiral.  While you work on the activities below refer back to the Imagine-Create-Play-Share-Reflect-Imagine model.   Remember playing is essential to learning and allow yourself to do something you might not have ever thought of as learning.


The least thing I liked about Christmas break as a child was the packet of worksheets my well meaning teachers sent home for me to do over the break.  No matter how they package them or wrapped them they were still worksheets and frankly boring.
Learning should be joyful, if we are to create life long learners we need to find activities that make the majority of learners want to participate. so here are a few activities to try this break.  Have fun and never be afraid to mess up.  This is how we learn.  Keep at it, don't quit and don't worry if it is silly or not perfect.  This is how learning looks.


MATH PATTERNS:  Decorate a Christmas tree on paper or the real thing using patterning and show your work.  Use ornaments, strings of popcorn or garland or pine cones and follow a pattern of color or shapes or texture.  Ask someone to see if they can see it and get your family to help.

MATH PROBLEM SOVLER: Come up with a formula to determine how long of a shoelace you need and show how you figure this out.  Research the relationship between shoelace length and shoe size.  Show your work in a graph or drawing or algebraic formula.  What are some of the variables?  Do the eyelets matter?  Do the way you lace up your shoes matter?  Part B:  Design a new way to lace up your shoes.

SONG WRITER:  Come up with a new story for the 12 Days of Christmas using all new items and characters.  You can write it, sing it, dance it act it out or story board it.  One Ipad beeping, Two Xbox dinging, Three puppies yelping....

CARTOONIST:  Write a cartoon where you are the hero and save the world.  This is where writers learn to story board and this can carry on to all kinds of creating.  Make us your own super power.  Design a costume, a hide out, or a side kick. Draw it, make it, create it in another way like acting it out and filming it.  Some ideas: I am the Super Hero Fuzzworth and my super power is I can freeze time and move around fixing bad things right before they happen by moving victims out of the way.  My disguise is an old lady because no one ever suspects them. The people I help only have a fuzzy recollection of what happened, hence my alias.

BE A CHEF:  Make up your own recipe for a salad, sandwich or any meal, using nothing but left overs.  Record your work and interview who ever eats it.

BE A REPORTER:  Interview someone about what they got for Christmas.  Try to ask investigative questions like: Did they like it?  What did they really want?  Then try and recreate the event to layer your news story using friends for actors.

BE A CONCEPTUAL CREATOR OF GAMING:  Write a conceptual idea for a computer game.  Story board it or show it in a way that is meaningful to your creativity.

DESIGNER:  Make a marble run out of items in the house such as cardboard, tissue boxes, paper towel rolls BUT HERE IS THE SECRET SAUCE:  Make the marble or ball go slowly down the structure.

TEACHER:  Make you own tutorial of something you can make or do well and share it.  Teach it to your parents.  *** Example: How to survive the 1st night on Minecraft.

BLOGGER:  Make a Blog or Vlog about something you are interested in.  Even if you cant film it your can do this in the mirror.

ARCHITECT:  Make the highest structure possible out of marshmallows and dry spaghetti. Ask questions,  What made it stronger?  What shapes did you make your building blocks out off.  What worked?  What didn't word

PLAY WRITER: Create a play, design the set, make costumes perform it for family and friends.

INSTRUMENT MAKER:   Make your own musical instrument. 

COMPOSER:  Compose a song and perform it.  Ask your family to sing it with you.   See if you can do harmonies to your own melody

LINGUIST:  Create a new language out of symbols or pictures.  Teach it to someone.

SCREENWRITER:  Write or conceptualize a new episode of your favorite show and show it to someone. See if you can rewrite it with a different ending.

SUPER NINJA:  Make an your own America Ninja Course out of snow or soft items in your environment and run it and time yourself.  *******Don't do anything dangerous.

THEME PARK DESIGNER:   Make a roller coaster on Minecraft using only the natural landscape.  Don't use blocks to build but only mountains and digging down is okay.  You can use tracks.

MATHEMATICAL GENIUS:  Create a new model of the Multiplication Table using cartoon drawings.  Look at this chart below for ideas.