Originally published April 05, 2018 on the Educator Innovator blog
Written by Tim McIntyre Photo courtesy of Christopher Harris
Grass Valley Elementary’s schoolwide shift towards connected learning and maker education, supported by an LRNG Innovators Challenge grant, is letting students shine by giving them opportunities for authentic expression while connecting to their passions and communities.
“We often think of Grass Valley as ‘The Little School that Could.’”
This is how Paula Mitchell, a teacher at Oakland, California’s Grass Valley Elementary School begins the story of her school’s embrace of student choice and connected learning. The shift began in earnest in the 2016-2017 school year, as four of Grass Valley’s classrooms implemented a new project-based learning curriculum. This year, the transformation has gone schoolwide, thanks to a grant from the 2017 LRNG Innovators Challenge.
The LRNG Innovators Challenge grants stem from a partnership between LRNG, powered by Collective Shift, the National Writing Project, and John Legend’s Show Me Campaign to help educators extend time and space for Connected Learning. The Connected Learning theory posits that learning happens on a continuum—in school, as well as at home, work, and among friends—and is driven by students’ own interests and life experiences.
Through this project, called Linked Learning with Maker-Centered Education, Grass Valley Elementary is expanding its makerspace and leveraging that maker ethos to transform the whole school with school-wide projects, crowd-sourced afterschool events, and support for individual pursuits and tinkering.
School-wide projects establish a broad, guiding theme for the whole school, and then let individual classrooms and students find unique ways to explore that theme and demonstrate their learning. In the fall trimester’s “Self as Superhero” project, students were tasked with identifying a problem in their community, whether that be their classroom, school, neighborhood, or beyond, and worked through the skills and traits that they, as superheroes, would need to tackle their issue.
Students worked on a variety of problems, and their final products took many forms, including comic books, costumes, action figures, and posters. One class even decided to put on a shadow puppet show, working collaboratively to write a script, build their superhero shadow puppets, and even figuring out how to build and operate the lighting. Students had the opportunity to write, create, and construct, all while coming to understand themselves as superheroes: change agents with the creativity and power to have an impact on their communities.
The project culminated in a day-long Comic Con event, where students showed off their projects, proudly displaying comic books and art, as well as donning their carefully crafted costumes and acting out their stories.
The day also featured some unexpected community connections, including Amana Harris, the activist whose book had inspired the project, as well as a local artist whose paintings of African-American superheroes wowed the students.
In addition to the school-wide projects, Grass Valley’s makerspace holds regular afterschool events, with project ideas crowdsourced via a simple sheet of paper posted in the hallway. This has resulted in a variety of projects, with slime-making emerging as a particular favorite.
The makerspace also provides the opportunity to pursue open-ended, individual projects: students can bring in an idea, and teachers will support them in creating and carrying out a project plan.
All of these opportunities for student voice and agency are having an effect, says Mitchell. “I feel like they’re getting more and more empowered to speak up, say what they want. I see it already, they just come in like ‘I wanna make this, I wanna do this, I wanna do that.’ It’s great, it’s exactly what we hoped would happen.”
But the benefits of this approach don’t stop at giving students more say over what they’re learning; perhaps more profoundly, students now have much more agency over how they learn, and how they show their learning. “Through this project there’s an opportunity to showcase skills and talents that a lot of teachers didn’t know their kids had, until they tried a more hands-on approach and opened it up to the students’ vision,” says Mitchell.
This can be especially noticeable for the school’s special education students, who, despite experiencing difficulties with more traditional forms of school participation, are able to truly shine when given the opportunity to express themselves in a way that is authentic to them.
Mitchell points to one boy—a fifth-grader who had entered the school as a completely non-verbal kindergartener and still showed little interest in writing—whose “Self as Superhero” comic book particularly stood out. “He drew the most amazing character and then did all the dialogue,…he took off and created whole scenes and dialogue between characters and wrote them out in speech balloons. He owned that comic book that he created.”
This authenticity is at the heart of what makes the project, and Connected Learning in general, so valuable. By reshaping school work around students’ interests, not only in content but also in form, Grass Valley is creating opportunities for students to bring their passions and talents into the classroom (and library!) with full force, helping them grow into curious, creative, and skilled adults, ready to make an impact in their careers and in their communities.
After all, as Mitchell says, “the whole reason we have school is for them.”
Previously published by AbD Oakland, October 19, 2017 see original article here
“Maker-centered learning means that there’s choice, freedom for students to explore what they’re really interested in, to develop a passion for something, to really get engaged and light up their minds.”
Paula Mitchell, Teacher on Special Assignment for Maker Ed and Blended Learning
Grass Valley Elementary School
In the fall of 2014 Grass Valley teacher Paula Mitchell attended the conference: Project Zero Perspectives: Making, Thinking, and Understanding, in San Francisco. When she returned back to her classroom she brought new ideas, thinking routines, and making. Her principal at the time, Dr. Brandee Stewart, recognized that she was onto something: “I’ve always been on the search for this engaging culturally relevant way of engaging kids. And when I went into Paula’s classroom and saw and heard what she was talking about around maker education…I felt like this was the missing piece throughout my career.”
Since then, in order to create a sense of agency and empowerment in their learners, Grass Valley has made the shift to maker-centered learning, placing it at the center of the school curriculum and culture. With the guidance of Paula Mitchell, who was hired as a Teacher on Special Assignment with Project Based Learning & Maker Education, the school prioritized hands-on experiences, with the goal of getting students excited and empowered about learning.
“What can kids notice about their place in the world? And then how can they push against that? And how can they demand more for themselves?”
Roxanne Martinez, Resource Specialist, Grass Valley Elementary School
The overall shift toward maker-centered learning was implemented by first creating a long term vision then adjusting resources and schedules along the way to support that vision. Cohorts of teachers were created to collaborate on maker projects and share strategies within their Professional Learning Communities. Teachers in both special and general education collaborate alongside each other to share approaches and ideas, ensuring that the special education curriculum mirrors that of the general student population.
“Students who traditionally may not show up as the successful student can actually exhibit a set of skills and knowledge and talents that often surpass students in general education classes.”
Dr. Brandee Stewart, Principal, Grass Valley Elementary School
In November 2016, the school opened their maker space, called the “Wonder Workshop,” a classroom dedicated to maker-centered learning during the school day. This space has also served as a space for teacher collaboration, family making night events, and professional development workshops.
The success of the maker-centered learning program at Grass Valley Elementary is due to collaborations across multiple individuals and organizations. Within the school, Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, provide dedicated weekly meeting time for teachers to come together and share curriculum ideas and professional development tools. In addition to the PLCs, community partners such as Agency by Design have and continue to play a key role in providing professional development, support, supplies, and funding along the way. Not only did Grass Valley teachers Paula Mitchell and Diana Culmer participate in the 2016 – 2017 Agency by Design Oakland fellowship, they, along with two other colleagues, took the online Agency by Design course Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom, which was funded by a grant from the Light Awards. In addition, Grass Valley has partnered with Maker Ed to receive Maker Vistas, and has collaborated with numerous community makers.
Three times during the course of the 2016-2017 school year teachers brought their students together to share and celebrate their learning. The year-long curriculum focus on Health and Wellness was centered on these driving questions:
- How can we as students take control of our food sources?
- How can we, as food scientists, investigate ways to interact with food?
- How do we share our knowledge of health and wellness with others by producing, packaging, and marketing a product for a farmer’s market?
In Expo One students demonstrated what they were learning through visualizations of healthy food, maps of local food sources, and planter boxes they had built for seedling vegetable plants. In Expo Two students became food scientists, which was visible in their re-constructions of the human digestion system, cookbooks with their own recipes, and a variety of food offerings they had made. In Expo Three, the culminating event of the year, students produced a farmer’s market, showcasing products they had made, packaged, and marketed themselves.
Click to view Grass Valley Student Expos Video
Grass Valley teachers’ energy and dedication to pursue maker-centered learning continues to grow. This year there were seven Grass Valley applicants to the 2017 – 2018 Agency by Design Oakland fellowship! We are excited to announce that Monique Parish and Roxy Martinez will be joining us this year, and Paula Mitchell will be joining the Agency by Design Oakland coaching team as a Senior Fellow.
Lastly, we celebrate and appreciate the leadership of the Grass Valley educators! Three years after Paula Mitchell attended the Project Zero Perspectives conference in SF, she and and Diana Culmer share what they’ve learned through a workshop of their own, “Authentic Inclusion and Hands-on Engagement,” at the May 2017 Project Zero Perspectives Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.
Grass Valley is a small elementary school in the Oakland Unified Public School District serving just under 300 students, mostly students of color, in kindergarten through fifth grade. Over 70% of the student population is socioeconomically disadvantaged, 25% is served by the special education program and approximately 17% of the students are classified as English language learners.
“Book knowledge is just one piece of a larger education. What you learn must be applied in your everyday life. They’re the next scientists, they’re the next inventors, they’re the next presidents. And all of that starts here.”
Dr. Brandee Stewart, Principal, Grass Valley Elementary School
It is the time of year again, children attend their last day of school year and embarked on a summer of fun. Making can be part of their summer plans and we, Wonder Wondershop, highly encourage it.
To make it even easier for you, we created a list of free events near Oakland, CA where your child can make, build knowledge and have fun. (Click to download the Summer Events document.) Check back next week for Summer Events List 2 for more listings of events near the Bay Area. Till then, Remember:
Our world is what we make it
Document design by Maria Esmeralda Renteria and Summer vector created by Freepik
About the Author
Maria Renteria, AmeriCorps VISTA
Maria comes to us from the South Bay of Los Angeles. She has been a Maker since she can remember. She is excited to share this passion with Grass Valley Elementary students because she wants them to create their best memories of school through making like she did when she was little.
Our wonderful Makers from the Wonder Workshop will be holding a workshop and a quick talk at the 3rd Annual Maker Educator Convening: Impact and Outcomes of Maker Education: Empowering Youth and Educators on May 17, 2017 in San Francisco.
The Maker Educator Convening
highlight[s] the diverse outcomes of maker-centered learning for both educators and youth–not just in knowledge acquisition, but in the (co)development of knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions. At the convening, educators and practitioners will showcase the diverse ways maker education has impacted educator practice and youth learning. Additional goals include:
- Connect both formal and informal maker educators
- Share examples of the impact of maker education across various settings
- Offer diverse formats to explore and discuss the impact and outcomes of maker education
Paula Mitchell will be leading a workshop titled “Authentic Inclusion and Hands-On Engagement: Empowering Special Education Students and Students of Color through Culturally Responsive Maker Centered Learning.”
Maker Empowerment and Visible Thinking have become integral to Grass Valley’s school culture and curriculum. Paula’s workshop will showcase Grass Valley’s best practices with regard to maker centered learning for students of color and special education students. Through the use of an Agency by Design thinking routine and discussion of best practices around culturally responsive Maker Education, participants will come away with tools to use with their students that will help expand their mindsets so they can become agents of change in their world.
Crystal Le and Maria Renteria will be hosting a 5-minute quick talk about “Unconventional Resources: Creative Capacity Building,” in which they will talk about gathering resources from unlikely places or groups.
We hope to share the wealth of knowledge we have gained since we officially launched the Wonder Workshop back in November. Unfortunately, since the date this blog was written, tickets are no longer on sale. However, it’s never too early to save the date for the future Maker Educator Convening, which we highly recommend you to attend. Follow the #MakerEdConvening to live twitter updates about the event.
Our world is what we make it
Featured Photo by Makered.org
Grass Valley’s Wonder Workshop is excited to have hosted its first school-wide button design competition “Become a Buttoneer.” Our students had the opportunity to design a button that shows what Making at Grass Valley means to them.
We received many entries from various grade levels. It was hard to narrow down to just three winners!
After reviewing the entries, here are our winners:
1st Place Winner: Kymiah
2nd Place Winners: Nevaeh & MacKenzie
3rd Place Winner: LeBaron
Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to all of our participants for sharing what Making means to you!
Want a first place button handmade by Kymiah herself? It’s only a donation of $1! For more information, email us at email@example.com. Check out our Facebook for more content.
Our world is what we make it
Join us for the April East Bay Maker Educator Meetups (EBMEM) at Grass Valley Elementary in Oakland for a night of culturally responsive making!
We’ll begin by learning about Grass Valley Elementary’s recent event, Black History Month Family Making Night, an event that included students, parents, and teachers in a convergence of both traditional and new forms of making. Teacher on Special Assignment, Paula Mitchell, and Maker VISTA members Crystal Le and Maria Renteria will provide a presentation on this event devoted to honoring and exploring historic and modern contributions of African American innovators. After this presentation, we’ll dive into a hands-on making activity inspired by an African American innovator and explore culturally responsive making.
Register for the event here.
Grass Valley Elementary is located at 4720 Dunkirk Ave in Oakland. There’s always plenty of street parking right out front. Please arrive ready to make!
We are excited to announce that we will be at the Lighthouse Maker Faire. Our students will be leading a maker station and there will be demonstrations by our Maker Ambassadors.
Lighthouse Maker Faire takes place April 21, 2017, from 10 am -2 pm. Join us for Wonder Workshop’s first official Maker Faire.
Register here to attend for free.
We hope to see you there and our students can’t wait to share their making knowledge with you.
Our world is what we make it
The Wonder Workshop started with Paula Mitchell, the teacher behind making at Grass Valley. She had a dream to turn Grass Valley into a making school with its very own Makerspace. She attended many maker education workshops and became a member of Oakland’s Maker Fellows Program. There she met a Maker Ed Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service for America) member, who told Ms. Mitchell about the difference she was making at La Escuelita. Ms. Mitchell decided to apply to Maker Ed’s VISTA Program, and Grass Valley was granted two new AmeriCorps VISTA members.
This brings us to today: the VISTAs, Crystal Le and Maria Renteria, have been working behind the scenes of making at Grass Valley for 9 months. Recently, Maker Ed asked Miss Crystal and Miss Maria to participate in an online Q&A “Ask a Maker Educator: VISTA Edition.” They talk about why they are serving with the Maker Ed VISTA program, how they started Grass Valley’s new makerspace, and how they’ve creatively approached gathering resources and much more. Watch “Ask a Maker Educator: VISTA Edition” for their experiences and insights!
Our world is what we make it