The first paper I wrote on rhizomatic learning turns 10 this year, and if you’d told me that I was every going to write the word ‘worksheet’ and ‘rhizomatic learning’ in the same blog post i would have coughed my coffee on my keyboard.
And yet, here I am.
Two years ago I committed to using the Arduino to model rhizomatic learning and, for the last year, I’ve been leading the digital strategy for k12 in my province here in PEI. Next week we start the next phase of our work and start looking at how we can integrate microcontrollers and maker activities (and coding) into various parts of the curriculum in our schools.
But how to teach it?
And, more importantly, how do we support teachers (many of whom don’t currently use these approaches) in such a way that they don’t fall back to step by step approaches to using it. Because, i have to tell you, it’s really REALLY hard in the real world not to just tell people what to do with a microcontroller. I’ve found that each time I have this crazy urge to just go “look, plug this in here, nail that over there…” Technology is hard. The multitude of travelling road shows that make this stuff look attractive in the classroom might look snazzy when you see them, but the practicalities of using this stuff in the classroom can be overwhelming.
And yet… I want students to be able to follow their own paths with this stuff. To create a curriculum by interacting with their community. I want them to build connections to what they already know in an organic, authentically student lead manner.
To design things we can’t ourselves imagine.
Technology projects are hard
I have yet to find a limit to the possible impediments to a wide open “lets play with this to make something cool” approach to using microcontrollers in the classroom. I’ve had people straight out panic at the ideation point. I’ve had people go down a rabbit hole of something that was entirely impossible (at least, as far as i could tell). I’ve had people with full circuit boards with one wire out of place that we couldn’t find. lack of tools/resources appropriate to the task. Boredom. Frustration. Fine motor skill challenges. Organizational weaknesses. I mean… I could do this all day.
lets assume that someone has a reasonable idea and a reasonable path to get there… sometimes it doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work? Well… if i had time to sit down with it for 5 minutes I might be able to figure it out, but when 10 other people need my attention, i never get 5 uninterrupted minutes to look at it. Troubleshooting these things is partially about experience, but its also about process. Once your other students become more proficient, this isn’t such a problem… but first day… the day that will convince the teacher that this is really a terrible idea… those other kids aren’t always a whole lot of help.
Some of that knowledge gap is simply mine as a teacher. Hey dave, any idea what voltage this is at? Hey dave, can i plug this in here? Hey dave… you get the idea. And, of course, in a rhizomatic classroom this should be student lead. But the internet is not generous to the uninitiated in this kind of technology. The forums can be terse and distant and, in some cases, totally unresponsive. Can i really let a kid wait 2 days for an answer to a question? And, as that question is a fact “what voltage does this thing need to be at?” finding it is not discovery (outside of effective searching practices which are important…) doesn’t it make more sense if i can save their time for the truly explorative part of this. Plus… I want lots and lots of teachers to be able to do this. Some structured resources are going to make creativity easier? Right?
Concepts of success
So much of our schools system is built around things being finished. Success is having a project done and presenting it. Finishing the paper. Finishing the test and getting a grade. many of these projects will not work OR get finished. The existing social contract does not really favour this. We need to provide a scaffold on which students can build their own sense of success.
All kinds of other feelings
“Educational research says:” you need to give people a clear sense of what success looks like. While I agree that having people understand the contract under which you are using your power as a teacher is important its that word ‘clear’ that gets me into trouble. I like learning to be messy. Like life. When you don’t give people a clear sense of what success like, we enter a whole realm of real (and super important) human feelings that we need a way to address. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO!!?!?
So I’m working on a worksheet for a core project. (it’s setup for comments. Feel free to go ahead and tell me what you think)
The project i’m designing this around is an elastic launcher
It’s a pretty simple project from a tech perspective. At its core is an arduino uno, a button and a servo. Combine code from two into one… ur done.
The left side of the worksheet is for the project management pieces. What are your goals? How will you know you’ve reached them? What approaches are you going to take to get there. What will you actually do and when?
Put simply, I’m imagining giving this to teachers fully filled out. At least for one version of the project.
Goals (what change are you trying to make)
Build an elastic band launcher
Accurate? Beautiful? Easy to use? Sturdy? What kind of launcher is right for you?
Success Measures (how will you be able to measure that change)
If it’s accurate? (i can hit a target five feet away)
Ease of use? (how quickly can people use it?) (Can a five year old use it?)
Approach (what approaches will you use to shape tasks)
Copying a list of actions from an existing model
Working with partners to fill out my task list
Ask for help
tasks and timelines
Getting the thing plugged in
Checking the arduino works (blink)
Checking the button works (button)
Checking the sweep works (sweep)
Trying to combine button and sweep
Building a gun
Getting a base
Attaching the sweeper
Finding a front peg
Attaching both in a reasonable space
The process from here, then, is to have teachers remove the pieces they wish to to allow for more student choice. You might hand out the worksheet with the sub-goal section blank. You might focus on strategy development one day. This approach allows you to develop different kinds of skills and limit the points of complexity on any given project.
Socio Emotional Learning
On the other side of the worksheet is the narrative. How are things going? Am I panicked at the ideation stage? What did I do when I couldn’t get the stupid thing to work? It’s a list of Writing prompts that you may or may not include… but the idea is to create a place for the discussion around the feelings that people are having related to the projects. Are you nervous about building? is it really just boring for you? Do you feel like its a rote process?
What if my goal isn’t cool enough?
How do i measure things like beauty
How accurate do i need to be?
My partner isn’t doing any work
Aren’t i just copying their work?
How much should i have done before i start working on that?
I can’t get the teacher’s attention
What should i know to ask for help as effectively as possible
Is this too much work? Can i make it easier?
Tasks and timeline
OMG what are they saying? I can’t read this
What are these little lines for on the resistors?
What happens when i can’t get it to work
What materials should i choose?
What I’m getting at
What I’m trying to do with this worksheet is scaffold the classroom experience so that 25 kids can all have some kind of success in the work they’re doing. They could be really successful in their reflection on feeling helpless when faced with this task. Most (all?) should be able to do the initial rote work that will be part of the testing phase for the technology. The tracking of their timelines and tasks will give them success markers and also allow them to return to the work two weeks later and find the place they were at.
Does this still retain enough creativity? Does it still allow learners to learn rhizomatically? Well. It still depends on the teacher. If you do a few like this will you be able to remove the shackles and let them just build? I hope so. Maybe they’ll be able to translate these skills to home and take a more rhizomatic approach there.
What I do know… is that the scaffolding is necessary. It wont be fair to teachers or students without it.