Constraint Breeds Creativity

For the last seven weeks, I have been involved in Michigan State University’s Masters in EdTech course Adapting Innovative Technologies in Education. The course is comprised of seven one-week modules, each broken into four components: learn, explore, create, and share.

All of the assignments built upon each other and required considerable reflection and creative thinking. Yet while some were of a more familiar (not easy mind you, but familiar) learning process, like researching and writing about collaborative problem solving in the classroom, other assignments required the use of new programs, like SketchUp, WeVideo, or Piktochart. I began to think of these weeks as “pressure cooker assignments”, during which the lines between Explore and Create became seriously blurred. With only a week to not only learn a program, but say, produce a remix video with creative commons material or design an influential infographic, creating really began when first opening the program. For teachers hoping to integrate such maker programs into the classroom, these exercises emphasised the importance of allowing students time to deal with the learning curves of new technologies.

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This leads me to the first of two constraints that I wrestled with while trying to implement maker lessons during this course: finite class time. As an EFL teacher of mostly low-level K-6 students, our contact time at school is generally the only English exposure they get. I get anxious if my students don’t have the opportunity to speak in class, and I struggled, for example, when I led my class through the Sketch it! Play it! MaKey MaKey lesson, as the students had to spend significant amounts of time silently drawing their game controllers. It was not until later that I realised the drawing element, after a simple introduction, could have been assigned as homework, a la the flipped classroom. The lesson time could then be comprised of mini-presentations explaining “What program did you choose to play on Scratch and how did that affect your game controller design?“, followed by some well-earned game time as students took turns hooking up their creations to MaKey MaKey.

In an effort to optimise class time further and provide students with more learning opportunities outside of the classroom, I am also tempted now to assign as homework certain online games which normally serve as a warm-up and introduction to a target language. This would negate the need for any in-class demonstration of the game, familiarise students with the lesson’s material, and also provide a great opportunity to generate language as the warm-up became students explaining how to play. I used this game recently to introduce sentence patterns with adverbs, and its simplicity makes it a perfect choice for self study.

The second constraint was my students’ language ability, and this became a clear obstacle when trying to integrate my MaKey MaKey Game Console. When planning a maker lesson, there are so many exciting possibilities that it is all too easy to get ahead of oneself. As 4th and 5th graders, there is no doubt my students would have plenty to discuss in their native language of Mandarin, but sadly it is often the case that EFL students are unable discuss their areas of interest due to language limitations. By tackling my first constraint and minute by minute carving out class time that can be devoted to group or independent research for students to learn about a topic of their choosing, perhaps I can lay a foundation for self-guided maker and presentation projects in the future.


References

Spencer, John. (2016). Think Inside the Box: The Power of Creative Constraint (Online image). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGyjGwSQXpg

 

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