Building a “Geeking Out” Culture in my STEM Lab

I was really excited to read about geeking out this week. I want to first say that I use the term technology in a much broader way than most do. The definition of technology is:

 

I think when most people think of technology they think computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. When I think of technology I think of those things too but I also think of robots, motors, hammers, nails, saws, hot glue guns, paint brushes and the many other tools that can be used to apply scientific knowledge to make stuff. I should, I’m a STEM teacher! I am so excited to be part of and to encourage participation in what is known as the “maker movement”. Take a look at this article if you want to know more about it. I think the maker movement is built on the principles of geeking out. Maker spaces across the planet are filled with people geeking out – sharing ideas and skills, providing feedback to each other and creating high and low tech stuff that is absolutely mind blowing. In my classroom maker space we pipe in youTube videos (like this one I used with my KG-2’s to make Squishy Circuits) and instructional sites like Instructables (a huge go-to in my world). We are even starting to contribute to this community of makers. Here is an example of a youTube video one of my students made to help other students with programming their Lego NXT Mindstorm robots:

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I have added a page with some of my favorite STEM and Tech Books to this blog (a short list right now, but I will be adding more very soon). Please take a look if you are interested in more about the maker movement.

Where I have a lot of work to do to truly create a great geeking out space is to develop a culture of honest feedback that can really encourage my students and to help make their work better. The problem is that they tend to always look to me for the feedback.

“Unlike what young people experience in school, where they are graded by a teacher in a position of authority, feedback in interest-driven groups is from peers and audiences who have a personal interest in their work and opinions.”

My class for most students is interest driven. I do have some work to do to give opportunities for independent exploration but there is certainly a lot of interest in what we do.  There are plenty of experts in my classes that can provide valuable feedback for my peers and even the non-experts have valuable opinions to share. How can I empower them to take a greater role in providing feedback for each other? How do I encourage feedback that is honest and at the same time respectful? I am trying to break down a culture that fears failure. I want them to embrace it as part of the learning process and I hope that means that feedback can be more honest and productive. I have a long way to go but I think that my STEM classes are on the way.

2 thoughts on “Building a “Geeking Out” Culture in my STEM Lab

  1. Great post, Andrew! I have always appreciated that your STEM lab is right next door to our Learning Commons. I love passing by and seeing the kids so happily engaged in whatever project they are working on that day. (Sometimes I wish I could stop in and build something myself!)

    In many ways, we share a common purpose, as we are both trying to create an environment in which our students can explore their talents and interests and develop a lifelong love of learning. I often come across articles about the Maker movement in my library publications, because in many schools, the librarian serves as the leader of STEM initiatives. We are really fortunate to have a dedicated STEM teacher in our school, but I’ve realized that I shouldn’t let that prevent me from implementing Maker activities in the Learning Commons. The entire Learning Commons philosophy is to go beyond a quiet library space to a collaborative place of learning and exploration. This year, I’ve tried to add a few more recess activities to encourage creativity, but I’m still looking for simple ideas to step it up. I really liked this blog post about incorporating STEM into the library and hope to try some of these ideas soon: link to librarygirl.net. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can support creativity and innovation, and focusing more on Makerspaces seems like a great way to do that. I’d welcome any ideas you have to share!

  2. Thanks for your post. I am green, wishing there were space and resources available for more Maker Movement in my own school. The true nuts and bolts of your post, however, is applicable to all teachers. You ask, “How can I empower them to take a greater role in providing feedback for each other? How do I encourage feedback that is honest and at the same time respectful? ” This is true for Morning Meeting, Reading and Writing Workshop, Math Workshop, blogging, and anywhere we want to empower our students to dialogue with one another and help each other to become better at anything they are trying. I think a place to start is to acknowledge that students are able to and need to take on this role. The next place to to explicitly model feedback, both of good quality and poor quality. Next is some kind of accountability to the feedback process. Would a rubric for this work with your students?

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