Exploring Essential Questions with Digital Objects

[In this article from the Smithsonian you’ll discover how to tap into digital objects or collections to address Essential Questions.  The Smithsonian sent a team to the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference to share their findings, since the Heinz History Center was one of the prime sites test out the new set of resources based on the history of innovation in Pittsburgh. I had a chance to present with Anne Sekula from the Remake Learning Council in Pittsburgh at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference on what we are calling an ISTE Playbook. I see this type of focus as a perfect fit into the new ISTE Standards for Students. Students need to learn to work and select appropriate technology for their projects. Students need to curate, not just collect resources. These are part of the ISTE Standards. ]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4

By: Tess Porter, Educational Technician, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

Trying to brainstorm your next Learning Lab collection, but not sure where to start? With a particular topic in mind, creating a large collection of objects and grounding them in a few guiding questions can be a great way to create a simple, investigative, multi-disciplinary, evidence-based, discussion-sparking collection for your students.

This method is flexible, can be used with a wide variety of topics, and works best in a collection containing 20–50 objects. In this post, I’ll describe some basic guidelines for creating a collection using this method, as well as examples of collections that I and other educators have built to inspire your own.

In this method, collection resources serve as sources of evidence for students to use in building a response to the essential question. This method is flexible, and there is no one right way to build a collection using it. However, there are a few guidelines that will help:

  • Choose the right questions to guide your students’ inquiry. There are two types of questions you’ll use:

Essential questions are the focus of the activity. They involve enduring issues, concerns, or broad disciplinary themes. Students must construct arguments based on multiple sources of evidence—the objects in your collection—to answer them. These questions are often best approached through multiple disciplines.

Supporting questions
help guide your students’ inquiry into the essential question. These questions ask students to investigate and analyze the significance of the collection objects both individually and as a group. Answering these questions will leave students with a new knowledge base from which to answer the essential question.

(For further information, see the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD) guide What Makes a Question Essential? and page 24 of the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards.)

Most importantly, without these guiding questions, a collection could easily become the equivalent of a slideshow. These questions engage students in the topics, issues, and objects of your collection. Below are some examples of what these questions might look like and how they work together in an activity.

  • Be selective about which objects you include. Analyzing each object should add something new to your students’ inquiry into the essential question. Curate, don’t just aggregate; while the effective range of collection objects you can use in this activity is 20–50 objects, less is often more. Objects can be many things: portraits, artifacts, sculptures, letters, just to name a few! It all depends on the topic. Sometimes, videos, websites, and articles, are also worth including as an “object” for analysis.
  • Create small groups to address the activity. Discussing answers to questions and listening to peer perspectives and experiences leads to a deeper understanding of the topic and essential question at hand.

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[For the past five years I’ve worked in the game-based learning arena, mainly for Zulama, a local company that developed a high school (and now middle school) curriculum based on the work of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. In this online article, you’ll discover a new competition open to middle and high school students in Pittsburgh, Dallas, and New York City.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Games for Change (G4C) is proud to announce the launch of the 2nd annual G4C Student Challenge in NYC, Pittsburgh, and Dallas for the 2016-2017 school year. This year’s programs features three new themes — Local Stories & Immigrant Voices, Climate Change, and Future Communities — along with a new lineup of partners and student events.

The Challenge is being implemented through a consortium of national partners, including Mouse and Institute of Play, and local partners in each city (The Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh and Big Thought in Dallas) with generous support from the Best Buy Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the HIVE Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust.

Challenge themes

Students will design games around the following three themes, each supported by partners that provide research assets, workshops, and subject expertise:

  • Local Stories & Immigrant Voices – supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): Games that explore the unique history of local immigrant experiences through the lens of the student’s own experience;
  • Climate Change – supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA): Games that explore the local effects of climate change, and aim to raise awareness and change the behavior of people in each city;
  • Future Communities – supported by Current, powered by GE: Games about how smart technologies and infrastructure can improve urban life and empower citizens, with participation from the city governments in NYC, Dallas, and Pittsburgh.

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Western Pa. schools’ $20K STEAM grant creations put on display

[A recent Tribune Review article featured creations at the 2016 AIU STEAM Showcase in Pittsburgh. Included was a canine robot named Marvin. The Carlynton student who created Marvin gained her initial training through Birdbrain Technologies Robot Petting Zoo Makeathon during the summer of 2015. Stephanie’s original creation was Fred, a sparkling red dinosaur. It’s wonderful to see how Marvin took on a more advanced look and feel using the Hummingbird Kit from Birdbrain. Tom Lauwers, the founder and Chief Scientist for Birdbrain Technologies,  will share some of the wonderful projects, like Fred (see below), created at Makeathons across the country at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference on November 8, 2016]

| Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, 10:21 p.m.

Stephanie Bonifield stroked her dog Marvin under the chin, and he wagged his tail.

The orange pooch, made of duct tape and cardboard, also blinked his light bulb eyes and shook paws with people who stopped to greet him.

“He’s got a gimpy leg, but it works,” said Bonifield, 17, a senior at Carlynton Junior-Senior High School. Marvin is her second robot — she also made Fred, a dinosaur.

She and other Carlynton students showed off their work at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s annual STEAM Showcase this week. Twenty-eight school districts from Western Pennsylvania sent students to the event to show off what they did with their $20,000 STEAM grants from the AIU in the past year.

The showcase is just one such event that celebrates science, technology and engineering education in the Pittsburgh area. Remake Learning Education Friday, scheduled Oct. 14 for students and educators, is already sold out. Organizers said they expect more than 1,500 students and educators at the Buhl Community Park and Nova Place for a sneak peek —including live demonstrations and hands-on workshops and activities—of the annual Pittsburgh Maker Faire, scheduled Oct. 15 and 16.

“There seems to be a voracious appetite for kids and educators today for these authentic making and DIY experiences/STEM experiences,” said Bill Schlageter, director of marketing for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, which is helping to organize the first-time event for students. “We’re very excited about it.”

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