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The keynote speaker on Wednesday – Emily Pilloton – did the unimaginable. She took ten juniors from a high school in an impoverished town in North Carolina, immersed them into design principles and project-based learning, and completed a project (they built a farmer’s market) that brought a town together. She did this without any teacher training, without garnering a wage form the school board, and without the support of the school board itself.

She calls her classroom Studio H and it consists of her partner (Matt Miller), and her students. They rally around the words: design, build, and transform. While they were completing the first year of their program, documentary film makers followed them through their journey and made the film: If You Build It.

At the end of her keynote she left us with some homework. The bold type selections below are the three statements she left us with. Underneath, I have jotted down my initial thoughts. In italics, I have left you with a question that you can comment on.

Make the space to make things.

At one of the schools I work at, I have already been in talks with the SERT/ Librarian to develop a digital maker’s space in their learning commons. I am going to suggest making this analog as well. I have already planned on a pod of laptops where students can use programs like Sketch Up and Minecraft to design, build, and transform. Now, I also envision modular storage containers that contain tools and materials that will bridge the gap between imagination and reality.

 Emily was taking about physical space, but I think we can extend this to space within our year long plans. Our students should be creating. We don’t need to pressure ourselves or our students to do more; we need them to do less, but in more depth and with more reflection. Initiating enriching and engaging projects that are cross-curricular and involve the philosophy behind the design process, is one way we can create such a space.

Besides maker spaces, how else can we create space for our students can be makers? How can we make the maker spaces authentic, when having to deal with regulations around acceptable equipment?

Wear your failures like a badge of honour. Talk about them whenever you can.

This one is extremely tough for me. I need to go about this more explicitly in my daily practice. I think what I have to do next is process my failures when they occur. I need to take the time to reflect on them, so I can have strategies to avoid them in the future.

There is a connection between failures and mistakes. If we reflect on them and delve into the causes and missed opportunities, then we can learn from them. I think my biggest failures has been not being able to reach a larger proportion of my students. When I reflect on these failures, one idea I keep coming back to is that I didn’t ask for (or find) the right resources to help that student. I need to acknowledge my own strengths and weaknesses and then seek out colleagues to help me out when I find myself stuck with a next step for a struggling student.

This is why collaboration and networking is so important for teachers. We have so many areas that we need to be competent in, that it is unrealistic to demand that we be experts in all of them. We need to have knowledge of content, pedagogy, assessment and evaluation, psychology, philosophy, etc., and we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to be experts in all of them (or even most of them). But, we should pressure ourselves to seek out people that can fill in our gaps and assist students where we are unable.

What is a failure you have learned from?

Walk into your school as a student first. Each day say, “I am here to learn.”

I think for teachers, there are two ways they can see themselves as students and learn. One, they can learn directly from their students. It doesn’t matter if we talk about math problem solving strategies or using technology, students find unique ways to get things done. We need to recognize this and celebrate it in our classrooms. Two, we need to be open and receptive to the fact that a student is going to pose a new challenge to our practice and we are going to have to learn and use new strategies to make that student successful.

How else do you learn in your classroom?