Brings all the students to the yard.
Okay, so maybe the play on words was a bit much, but Brandy and I had such a great time at the Nebraska Educational Technology Association’s (NETA) conference that I couldn’t resist. We signed up to be part of the “playground” at NETA and set out to give teachers a chance to prototype with rockets. The amazing part was that, unbeknownst to us, there were students attending the conference. It was the students who came to the booth and wanted to play with the recyclables. Of course, that was a happy surprise for us. We brought a bunch of materials, and expected to spend most of our time walking teachers through the process. But, when the students caught sight of our table, the discussion quickly changed to one of “look at what the students are doing”. The truly great part for me was having evidence of why this type of activity works. It is more than just students being entertained, or simply having a good time; both of which are important aspects of learning. The first group of students wanted to prototype something that would help students learn about they heart, so they pulled out their phones – not to Snapchat, or text their friends, but to look up a heart diagram to help them draw an anatomically correct heart.
For me, this was a drop the mic moment because I felt like everything Brandy and I have been developing, thinking about and showing to educators at conferences was validated in this moment. Our booth, which stood out from the crowd due to its lack of tri-board, had a small crowd of students surrounding it. They wanted to hear about what all the “stuff” on the table was. They wanted to explore, they wanted to demonstrate their learning and knowledge.
It didn’t take much either. Our table was made up of a bunch of leftovers, a bunch of stuff K-12 teachers could find in the supply room, or bring from home by saving recyclable materials prior to having students engage in a prototyping activity. Or better, encourage students to bring recyclables from home, too. It’s such an easy way for students to demonstrate their knowledge and have an outlet for their creativity. One of the other groups create a monster. When asked, the student told me the monster was angry because everyone thought the monster was scary, “but he isn’t”. I ran into the students later in the day and was quickly told of the monster’s untimely demise, but they quickly told me the monster had been photographed, so I assured them it wold live on in the digital universe. What I think is so powerful about this moment, is the lesson extended beyond the few moments these students spent at our booth. They remembered the activity, and their creation took on a life of its own. This is what creates lifelong learners. This is the power of an informal learning environment. This is science that engages.