Inspiring Innovative Teaching in China

Jed Stefanowicz is the new TOSA (teacher on special assignment) for the Natick Public Schools, in Natick Massachusetts. Before taking on his new role as technology coach, Jed was a third grade homeroom teacher for twenty two years. Jed also happens to be one of our wonderful Makey Makey Ambassadors. Jed first discovered the Makey Makey from our famous kickstarter (video) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfQqh7iCcOU] and immediately saw its potential. “We don’t want to make the mistake of buying tools and technology and having them sit in a closet,” Jed explained about his approach to educational technology. When giving talks on personalized or blended learning and technology integration, “Makey Makey is my go to ice breaker,” says Jed, “but it’s not about the tools. A maker space can be a paper bag, a desk or anything that inspires creativity.”

When Jed’s principal Kirk Downing developed a relationship with a school in Beijing, Jed was asked to spend his April vacation helping to promote STEM learning and practices with two schools in China. The STEM learning event consisted of three days of keynote speakers, workshops and hands on STEM rotation stations. There was also lesson planning time built in for participants. On day three of the workshop, teachers shared their lesson plans.

“Self-direction was not part of their schema,” Jed remarks. “Setting up stations where teachers had to direct their own learning was a major shift in mindset for some. The teachers were not closed minded,” notes Jed, “it was just a new kind of thinking for them.” To foster this new mindset in the Beijing teachers, Jed designed the teacher lessons thoughtfully. Jed began with a challenge to start the lessons, without knowing the answer. He then let the the teachers design their own models for testing and let them build their tower and explain their process to each other. One challenge had teachers design a boat that can travel across a table, then they had to swap instructions so someone else can make the same boat.

Of course Jed set up a Makey Makey station for teachers to explore as well. At this station Jed had the teachers to explore the materials while playing the piano. Teachers were then challenged to think about why it worked. They also played a Tetris game and designed a game controller. This challenge allowed teachers to work on communication, and their observation skills. We asked them, “What do you see, notice, discover?” Jed explains. “This kind of activity works well,” notes Jed, “because there is no language barrier.” Principal Downing concurs, “Makeys are a universal device, where we are able to create connections through experience, before language.”

Part of Jed’s focus with this workshop was to put the teachers into the roles that we ask our students to take, whether it was through STEAM challenges or station rotations. Jed also talked to the teachers about the 4 C's (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity). “Makey Makey is honestly a powerful tool to bring those elements to life for students and teachers. In fact, I've been developing a push to consider Computational Thinking as the 5th C and Makey Makey is a great bridge to that form of literacy,” Jed explains.

Jed hopes to stay in contact with the 30-40 teachers that rotated in and out each day of the STEM event. He also hopes there will be a lasting piece at these schools, thanks to Mr. Lui, director of the large school district, who seems committed to giving teachers new experiences and exposure to ideas around innovating classroom practice. The lessons employed during this workshop were about delivery and learning, not content. The ultimate goal of the workshop was to create a space for teachers to devote time to what they are teaching, how they are teaching, and why. As always, Makey Makey is proud to be part of any initiative that will bring more self-directed learning and invention literacy to students around the world!