Tag Archives: problem-solving

Makerspace reflections

The humble beginnings of our makerspace in the library – a collaborative effort between Steve Draper, Evan Watkins, Pam Saunders and me – have got me thinking about alternative learning spaces other than the traditional classroom, eg student-driven learning, passion-driven learning and hands-on, collaborative learning. 

Much has been written about the importance of tinkering, play and unstructured learning which takes problem-solving, collaborative learning and risk-taking into an unthreatening space. Although we obviously can’t throw out what we do in the classroom in favour of hands-on, unstructured activity, I’m still convinced that a conversation about this kind of learning will be valuable. Of course, students in the visual and performing arts do it all the time. And don’t get me started on that; we should try to understand the value of the Arts for the playing out of the learning process, and not just look at it with the career as end point. 


Updating the makerspace activity. LittleBits have brought different groups of students throughout the day. We could do without the little horn but never mind.

The conversation coming from a group of students tinkering away is an interesting one. I’ve been thinking about the difference between this space and its offered activities and the traditional classroom. The boxes of bits and pieces catches the attention of passing students who might come and see what it’s about. You can almost hear the cogs whirring in the brain as fingers turn bits around to make sense of how each bit works. A relaxed conversation follows, with questioning and ‘what ifs’ going in any direction, free from the confines of predetermined outcomes. The students own the activity. They choose how they stay, whether or not they read the manual.

Experimentation does not involve high-stakes risks. Right and wrong hold no judgement; it’s just a matter of trying a different way if it doesn’t work the first time. And there’s always someone to ask if you’re stuck.

There’s an element of mindfulness here; the activity relaxes as it engages. There is potential to bring together students who have not come together before. And most of all it’s a happy space.

Can we envision this kind of space for a classroom?

Art is not just pretty pictures: The deep process of artistic creation

My topic today is Art as a subject in schools. I wonder if we sometimes underestimate or misunderstand the role of Art in a student’s learning. It’s so much more than making pretty pictures. Art personifies learning through a transparent process of deep exploration and problem solving – with an end product to show for it. Just as with literature, the end product can be unpacked to reveal the influences which were part of the creative process. Fortunately this is not a purely scientific process but one which invites the exploration and interpretation of the viewer. Art is a model for problem solving in other areas of learning. We should hold onto Art, and not be fooled into thinking that it is less valuable than subjects which are associated with occupational success. We need Art.

I visited a year 9 class today to see the students happily working on large representations of themselves based on their exploration of the unit ‘Home and Place’. My part in this project was the collaboration with Mihaela Brysha, Head of Art, in resourcing the project  in our library website (Libguides). I’m including the project brief:

This unit explores ideas about belonging and is designed to question our relationship and interaction with:

  • Others
  • Pop culture
  • Consumerism
  • Cultural beliefs,
  • Personal histories
  • The natural world

The aim of the exploration is to make and visually interpret personal statements about what home and place means to you and how it shapes personal and cultural identity.

Australian artists Patricia Piccinini, Fiona Hall, Gordon Bennett, and Howard Arkley address some of these ideas from very different perspectives, influences, art forms, aesthetics, materials and techniques. The study of their ideas and studio art practice as well as interpretation and analysis of their artwork aims to provide stimuli for the exploration of ideas, content and techniques for practical explorations.

The online resources were a starting point for further research into these artists:

Fiona HallGordon BennettHoward ArkleyPatricia Piccinini

The art of Gordon Bennett strikes a chord with many of our students whose families come from different countries. Bennett’s art depicts the cultural tension between his ties to his Indigenous roots and his association with Western culture.

I loved the size of these art works, their bold colours and strokes, delicate details, diverse imagery and visual storytelling. I loved the energy and focused activity in the classroom, the productive interaction between students and teacher. I took photos.

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I’m looking forward to the hanging of these in the art show. Well done, boys, and well done, Mihaela.

Schools can no longer provide students with a complete toolkit for their futures

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyBsRn2vIlE&w=560&h=315]

Schools and unis can no longer provide students with the complete toolkit for their futures; now it’s about equipping them with skills to be lifelong learners.

Our students need self confidence, adaptability, and strong values

School’s task to develop people as successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

Knowledge remains vital but it’s not enough. Success depends on deep understanding and having the skills to turn knowledge to useful effect. Deep learning and the development of skills is important.

The curriculum should not be a catalogue of content – things to be learned. Students should be building networks and developing collaboration.

Deep learning and development of skills are critically important.

In the modern world, the evidence needs to be increasingly in advanced transferable cognitive skill – critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

There is a new emphasis on learner engagement. There is the idea that the learner has to take responsibility for his/her own decisions and has to be involved in his/her progress.

All learning has to become more ambitious. We have our new mission statements. We share the objectives but nobody has yet made the breakthrough to real 21st century practice.

When will we stop talking about this and start taking apart an outdated, irrelevant system?

Should teachers make their students suffer? Let’s not show them how to do it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHoXRvGTtAQ&w=420&h=315]

Scott McLeod shares this video from Michael Pershan in his post ‘A Japanese approach to Khan Academy’.  Michael raises the question: why do US students lag behind their peers in many other countries?’ It seems that the US and Australian teaching styles – showing students how to do something and then getting them to practice over and over – is not the best way to teach. The video shows a Japanese teacher giving students maths problems and leaving them to work out how to solve them. Listen to the video, it’s very interesting. So all is not well with Khan Academy for this very reason, and it’s interesting to project the possibility of Japanese educators’ version of Khan Academy. Problem solving, not practising ad nauseam according to a prescribed model, is the suggested alternative. It would obviously work with numeracy but also with literacy. If our students are disengaged in our classes, this might be one of the reasons. Don’t you think? And while we’re at it, why not give our students real world problems? How involved can they be in something that doesn’t matter to anybody.

Diane Curtis’ post about project-based learning quotes Seymour Papert on the reason why students are turned off by school:

“We teach numbers, then algebra, then calculus, then physics. Wrong!” exclaims the Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician, a pioneer in artificial intelligence. “Start with engineering, and from that abstract out physics, and from that abstract out ideas of calculus, and eventually separate off pure mathematics. So much better to have the first-grade kid or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around.”

I know what I would prefer – being challenged with real-world problems rather than work from textbooks which are predictable and uninspiring. Recently our year 9s and 10s received iPads – as I’ve mentioned before – and sadly the focus has been on the technology rather than how teachers and students can use these mobile devices to teach and learn differently. So far it’s been more about learning how to use the iPads to do what we already do, and throwing in a couple of apps. Hmmm…. No wonder the general consensus from staff is not overly positive. My favourite aspect of one-to-one devices is the possibility of connecting with others. If iPads are mobile devices then we should be using them to reorganise the classroom or even take it outside. Why don’t we connect with others outside the classroom, perhaps globally? Sharing ideas, opinions, photos and created multimedia is surely more engaging than practising skills in a theoretical situation.

What do you think?

iPad apps for problem solving

Higher order thinking is not what the students were consciously involved in while playing with iPad app games, but it’s what they were in fact doing. I gave my iPad to some of the boys at school one day and suddenly there was a small crowd standing around the player, intently involved and offering suggestions. I asked to film a small group of these boys demonstrating a few of the games. They were self conscious and so the natural banter and collaboration is lost but the demonstrations still stand. You can almost see the thinking process in action.



Unblock Me




Labyrinth – This one was cut short because of the glare


I think there would be a fair amount of justification for these from an educational perspective, don’t you? Physics teachers might want to look into them, for example.

Thanks, guys!


Problem-solving is for the birds

Problem-solving is not limited to the world of humans. It’s interesting to watch other species use thinking to solve a problem. Crows and ravens are, for me, associated with Grimms’ fairy tales and tales of dark forces, but here, thanks to Britannica Blog, we see a very practical crow persisting in reaching its goal.