Sunday, August 31, 2014

Using online science tools in informal science education settings: Curiosity Machine at camp

By Rusty Nye

It’s understandable that many educators might approach the idea of using an online resource to teach STEM content with a hint of trepidation, given how much of an unknown of online interaction remains, but after a summer of using Curiosity Machine during a bio-robotic camp, I’ve found that it encourages students and teachers alike to develop a sense of perseverance through the practice of redesign. Curiosity Machine is Iridescent’s online learning platform that connects students to professional scientists and engineers through virtual mentorship—students build hands-on design challenges, iterate on their designs, and then share them online with mentors who offer feedback and support and encourage further redesign. After using Curiosity Machine with students all summer and seeing how powerfully it engaged students, I wanted to share what I’ve learned, in hopes of demonstrating how powerful online mentorship can be.



 How is online mentoring helpful?


As an educator with no formal science background, I understand it is often hard to explain science concepts, motivate students to embrace the engineering design process and encourage rebuilding as a positive step. This is where the idea of online mentoring is tremendously helpful in the classroom. I can stress the importance of a strong foundation during a skyscraper design challenge but it just doesn’t have the same effect as when an actual structural engineer weighs in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Four Freedoms of Play and Common Core Standardized Testing



I was inspired by Scot Osterweil's recent presentation at GLS, in which he presented his four freedoms of play:
  • Freedom to Experiment
  • Freedom to Fail
  • Freedom to Try on Identifies
  • Freedom of Effort
What makes this framework most interesting is that to Scot, these are not only the four freedoms of play, but also the four freedoms of learning. Good learning environments also need to contain these freedoms to be effective, an idea very much resonant with James Gee's view on games and learning.

Although these freedoms are not a particularly new idea, it was new to me this year, and it really helped crystalize several previous thoughts I've written about. It definitely resonated with my ideas that agency is not a binary quality of an activity, but that learning activities can contain different degrees of agency. This framework helped illuminate some of those different degrees to which an activity can contain freedom/agency. 

But most interestingly, Scot noted in his talk how school doesn't contain these freedoms, despite the fact that both games and learning do.  His challenge to us was to imagine a school environment that did contain these freedoms. I found it especially interesting to think about in relation to Common Core and standardized testing, which led to the question of this blog post: could a school environment that was constrained by standards ever achieve these four freedoms? Let's try to break down the freedoms and answer that question.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Gravity Ether Educator Resource Packet



It’s here! We’ve spent the past few months working with Institute of Play to develop and refine a tool for educators using the Gravity Ether in their classes or programs, and we’re thrilled to finally be able to share it with you. The Gravity Ether Educator Resource Packet is free to download, and includes relevant information about the game, the physics concepts that it explores, and suggestions for ways to incorporate it into learning environments. We talk about how the Gravity Ether makes use of implicit learning theory and share some of our ideas on how to make the most of this--we’ve even included some lesson plans as a starting point for educators to make their own lessons.

You can download the packet by clicking here, or by visiting the Gravity Ether page (where you can also download the game for mac or pc). Take a look and let us know what you think in the comments!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Homemade device to record your iPad with your iPhone using popsicle sticks and rubber bands



So at Iridescent, we like to live what we preach. We don't just ask kids to make things from scratch, we do it too. Recently I decided that I needed a device to record myself playing games on my iPad (for a separate project to be talked about later). I had done this once before using my iPhone stacked up on a bunch of books and it worked reasonably well. So I decided I wanted the device to hold my iPhone in a position where it could record my iPad. But I also wanted to record myself consistently over the course of a year, so that each time I set it up, it recorded the same way, which meant I needed something better than the stacks-of-books method. It also had to be minimally intrusive in preventing me from using the iPad.

As I thought about this, I realized I had a well-defined design challenge that I needed to solve. Which meant to make things more fun, I decided to use the rule in we use in all of our design challenges: use only low-cost materials.

Additionally, I was always impressed with a Leonardo Da Vinci segment that Bobby Zacharias used in our Be an Inventor program in spring 2012. In the first weeks of that program, students had to design some kind of invention using only the tools and technology available to Leonardo. This meant no glue or machine screws could be used to make connections--things had to be lashed together or connected by pin joints. I always thought that sounded fun, so I decided to put the same constraint on my device.

So, where did that leave me? With a handful of popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a bunch of ideas in my head.

The final result! Now, how did I get here...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

5 Signals that an "Educational Game" Isn't Really a Game


Kids love games, but why do they hate educational games? The short answer is that most aren't truly games, because being gamelike means a lot more than having flashy graphics and a point system. As an educational game developer, I think one of the most damaging aspects to this industry is when people call things games in order to get kids to play them when they clearly aren't games.

How can you spot the fake games masquerading as educational games? Here are a few signals I've picked up on over time.

1. When walking through a demo of the game, the game designer stops to say "And this part is where the learning occurs."

The learning should be everywhere, not in one part of the game. If you can compartmentalize the part of the game that is about learning, you did something wrong. One such example would be breaking up the game to show a player an instructional video- if you are using a video to teach, then you are not using the gameplay to teach.

Friday, June 20, 2014

How to support teens in leading STEM "Curious Sessions" for Youth

This is a guest post from After School Matters, an organization we work with in Chicago. This past spring we partnered with some of their wonderful teen participants who brought the Curiosity Machine to a local library. Find out more about ASM here.


Science Innovation & Me is an After School Matters STEM pre-apprenticeship program at Erie Neighborhood House for 15 CPS high school teens. Over the Spring Cycle (January – April 2014), Michelle Barrera’s teens explored free design-thinking modules on the online portal, Curiosity Machine. The teens selected and practice four design-thinking challenges from the Curiosity Machine and then led “Curious Sessions” at the Bridgeport library branch for young children. Here’s Michelle’s story about how she integrated the Curiosity Machine and peer-to-peer teaching into her program – and how you can do it, too!
Michelle-at-Erie
Michelle guides one of her ASM teens in using the Curiosity Machine.
A little about your fellow ASM instructor, Michelle Palomino:
Chicago native, Michelle Palomino, has been working at Erie Neighborhood House since 2007. She runs a variety of programs, such as ASM’s Science Innovation and Me, a youth council, and sports. She also coordinates a middle school program called Scientists for Tomorrow, helps youth with homework time, develops youth programming, and facilitates retreats. Michelle is currently pursuing her Masters in Education at DePaul University.
In Michelle’s words, “I love being able to engage and motivate young people to explore science. I enjoy being able to explain concepts, planning lessons, taking students on field trips, and being able to teach through hands-on activities. However, what I love the most is instilling in my students a passion for learning. My students know they are capable to researching, gathering information and creating experiments and models on any topic they are curious about, and they know this because we have done it together.”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets

When I encountered Carol Dweck and her work on mindsets for the first time, I could almost physically feel a shift in my understanding. No gradual reveal here; it was immediate. To be clear, I'm not saying I read her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and stumbled into a life of success and happiness primarily defined by my shiny  new "growth mindset"--as I write this, I'm writing from a still primarily "Fixed mindset"--but Dweck's work has profound implications for the way people interact with the world, and even in those first encounters, that was evident.

Carol Dweck's work is foundational to our philosophy at Iridescent--Mindset is on the team reading list, and we discuss the idea of fixed and growth mindsets with parents we work with, and include it in our mentor training materials. A growth mindset so well describes the traits Iridescent hopes to foster in students, including curiosity, creativity, persistence and courage, that we share it with everyone who works with us.



Dweck descibes two basic kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth.