Guest Blog: Middle School ELA Educator, Cynthia Walsh, Newell-Fonda

Guest Blog: Middle School ELA Educator, Cynthia Walsh, Newell-Fonda

Mike Anderson and I were fortunate to support Mrs. Walsh in her quest to utilize the 3D printer in middle school language arts. We met in the summer to play with the 3D printer and to brainstorm and plan ELA connections. Mike also provides training for schools checking out the printer. The planning and preparation involved made for a successful learning experience. At the conclusion of the unit, students shared their creations. Their ability to articulate, discuss, share, show, and reflect impressed me. Thank you Mrs. Walsh and thank you Newell-Fonda 7th grade students! We are proud of your awesome accomplishments! Keep on creating! 

Making in Middle School ELA-Cynthia Walsh

I grew up in the age of Tinker Toys (the real wooden ones I could get splinters from), Lincoln Logs, and wooden blocks that my dad made out of bass wood for my brother and me as children. We made forts in the grove behind our house out of big sticks and orange twine that a farmer had accidentally left in the ditch from his hay bales one fall. When our front yard flooded, which happened quite frequently every time there was a hard spring rain – (before Mom and Dad got it tiled), my mother would get out all the supplies she could find so we could make styrofoam boats with pirate flags and attempt to sail something across our very own lake. With the neighborhood kids, we wrote our own plays and performed them for any neighbor that would so kindly come out and listen. Like many of you parents, I grew up in an age where tinkering, crafting, and creating were our forms of entertainment. There were no computers. (although they certainly existed; we owned a typewriter.) There were no Ipods, Ipads, Tablets, Kindles, or XBoxes. For the most part, the entertainment we had … we made.

When I reflect back to the days of my youth, it amazes me how far technology has advanced in such a short time. For some people, I understand the fear they have of the unknown. I can recall a time I had to explain to a loved one that the “rays” from the remote control could not go through her body and harm her if she was standing between the remote control and the t.v. Now I chuckle to myself when my 9 year old son gives Ipad lessons to his great-grandma in return for pickle wraps. Half hour lessons = 5 pickle wraps – in case you were wondering what the current exchange rate was. In my opinion, the change in today’s youth and what they do for entertainment scares a certain sector of today’s population. Many believe that the kids now-a- days are spending hours upon hours on their computer screens and Ipads – playing mindless games of Clash of Clans or MineCraft. Many believe that the days of backyard forts and lemonade stands are non-existent. Although in some homes without proper supervision, this may be the case. I think there is a case to argue that says children today are all still born with the same innate curiosities we had as kids, and they still have a crazy desire to build and craft things. So as teachers in today’s high tech society where children are engaged in technology around the clock, we are given the challenge to prepare our students with the necessary 21st century skills they will need to succeed in today’s competitive market. At the same time, we must figure out how to utilize that technology and challenge our students to use their natural born curiosities to problem-solve and create.

A movement that is rapidly spreading around the nation and becoming more and more of a topic discussed in the educational realm is The Maker Movement. The Maker Movement, according to Newsweek, “is a mix of global community of inventors, designers, engineers, artists, programmers, hackers, tinkerers, craftsmen and DIY’ers—the kind of people who share a quality that leads to learning [and]…to innovation ….”

The Maker Movement encourages the tinkering, building, and innate curiosities and creativity with today’s advanced technologies. It is a blend of old-day making and new-day technology. It’s about using the best and most current forms of technology to design and create. Its foundation is built upon the design-process cycle which encourages reiteration, trying something again and again until it works – and then making it better.

This year in 7th grade English, we incorporated the Maker Movement pedagogy into our classroom. This summer as part of my grad school requirements, I thoroughly researched the Maker Movement and designed a conceptual study that incorporated 3D printing and the design cycle process into the writing requirements of the Iowa Core. The end result was a unit we coined “Shark Tank” where students had to research, write, and design an invention or innovation that they believe solved a real-life problem. Although styrofoam boats were not being built in my classroom, laptop bag holders, music wristbands, and three-sided guitar picks were.

In this quarter-long unit, the students researched common day problems they were seeing in their environment. They then designed a solution for that problem and created a product on Sketch-Up that could help serve as a possible solution. Sketch-Up is s a 3D modeling computer program for applications such as architectural, interior design, civil and mechanical engineering, film, and video game design. It essentially allows the user to create something using lines, shapes and other forms of design. From their design on Sketch-Up, the students were able to print off their creations on a 3D printer that our school borrowed from the AEA. Just recently, Newell-Fonda has purchased our own 3D printer for our own use.

You may be wondering how design, making, and technology even comes close to fitting into our English curriculum. Along with all the “fun stuff,” the students did a ton of research and writing this last quarter. In the business portfolios they made, they compiled many reports and essays to back up the validity of their product they created. The 7th graders wrote and distributed surveys and analyzed the results of that data. They wrote a data analysis results report and a data results discussion essay. They wrote a reflection on their survey and researched their competition to write a competition report. They studied the 5Ps of Marketing (with insight from Mrs. Carlson, the business teacher) and wrote a marketing plan. They also drafted up and finalized a persuasive essay to convince their target audience why their product could be the best in today’s market. Last but not least, they composed a final reflection of things they would have done differently if they could start again. The final pieces of written literature were compiled into their business portfolios for the final Shark Tank presentation. After the students went through the design cycle process with their product, they created a presentation for the sharks. The students used a variety of platforms for their speeches including Powtoon, Documenta, Google Slides, and Prezi to create their presentations.

On January 12th, three “sharks” came into our classroom to listen to the students’ presentations. Like the show, Shark Tank, our sharks also asked questions and gave feedback. Unlike the show, no actual money was invested and our sharks were kind. =) Prior to the 12th, the kids spent time writing and re-drafting their speeches so that they would be prepared for the sharks. Public speaking is also part of my Core, so it naturally fit right into our unit. Each group gave a pitch to the sharks as to why their product would be a success in today’s competitive market. In their speeches, they touched on their competitors, their manufacturing price, their net profit, and most importantly, their reflection – what they would do differently if they did it again.

I would like to give a big thank you and shout out to Jim Gailey, Jami Sievers and Erin Olson for volunteering their time to give the students an authentic audience and experience as our sharks.

Sylvia Libow Martinez, co-author of Invent to Learn, a Maker Movement book, sums it up nicely when she writes this about students using their imagination to design and create: “(it is) a spiraling process in which children imagine what they want to do, create a project based on their ideas, play with their creations, share their ideas and creations with others, reflect on their experiences – all of which leads them to imagine new ideas and new projects.”

As we continue into third quarter, I look forward to the challenge of providing the 7th graders with opportunities to think, problem-solve, create, and reflect.