Just in Time Teacher Learning


by Heather Pang -

One of the things I like about letting students decide what they need to make for their projects is how much learning takes place between the moment they say "I want to make a model of the Taj Mahal to show how the architecture reflects the way Shah Jahan wanted to memorialize his wife" and the finished project.  For me, as a teacher, that is when a great deal of learning takes place.

As a historian, I am accustomed to working with students on a variety of research project on a wide variety of subjects. They are the most interesting when the students pick the topics, and I learn a great deal when they pick things I have never studied (some examples: the invention of skateboarding, the legacy of Coco Chanel, and the racial integration of high school proms).

This month I have been working with a 9th grade student making a National History Day project on the Taj Mahal, and we had plenty of questions about how to construct it large enough for the display. Slices of cardboard seemed to be the way to go, but I had never really figured out how to use 123D Make, and neither had our lab director, so we both did some digging to help the student.

Rather than help her directly with her model, however, I decided to just make my own, and then I would be able to help her if she needed it, but I would not be doing any of the work that she needed to do.

The result is my model of the statue from the Lincoln Memorial.

I still have some trouble with 123D Make, I have no idea how to fix the problem it often identifies as 0 sheets. It suggests the solution is to change the material settings, but I think it is finding problems in the .stl file, but does not articulate that.

The bigger take-away for me, as I help students with their projects is that I don’t need to know how to do everything before we start, and I will learn a great deal as we go.  And so will the students. 

I don’t have photos yet of the student project, she cut the last of the pieces on the laser cutter yesterday, and she has a huge puzzle to put together this weekend. I am confident that it is going to look fantastic.



Christa Flores's picture

Thank you for this piece. I love to hear about the learning journeys we as adults need to go through to best serve our students. Its the best medicine for a fixed mindset and keeps us feeling a strong sense of empathy for what it is like to be a learner in any subject. I have many colleagues who cringe at the idea of learning new technologies or even basic electronics (some in the science department!). What advice do you have for encouraging the adult learners in our lives to try something new and potentially hard? 

Heather Pang's picture

Good question, Christa, we were talking about this issue at school. One point that several people made it that they need time. And time, in all schools is very precious. But good support, and some time, and a culture of sharing are a good start. We have been using a few faculty meetings a year as "learning exchanges" where some of the faculty present things they have developed in and for their classes, and we rotate through several stations to learn from each other. When you know someone else at your own school is working on learning or doing new things, I think it makes it easier to say you will do that too. 

Anyone else have good ways of supporting (and/or requiring) this type of learning for teachers?

Christa Flores's picture

I am glad to hear that is the model you are using. I hosted my first faculty meeting at Hillbrook focused on making. It was 1.5 hours and we had stations all over campus (welding, sketching, laser cutting, woodshop, scratch programming, art bots, makey makey, squishy circuits, munchies and mocktails, garageband and blogging) taught by teachers, students and parents. I think it reached about 2% of the faculty because we are trained to be skeptical of faculty meetings, but if we make it part of who we are on a regular basis, it might take hold.