I wrote recently about building an interactive whiteboard using a wiimote and wondering what to do with it. What I didn't write about though, was the process. It was fun--I made a couple of trips to Radio Shack, dismantled several defenseless pens and flashlights, used a soldering iron for the first time in years, and shrank insulation using my hairdryer. I have made three pens now, each one a little better than the previous one. A couple of teachers at school made them too. Clay Burell recently tweeted that he is going to build one using a Korean wiimote. Cool.
Why did I enjoy the process so much? Because it was hands on learning. It reminded me of how the kids respond to the Lego Mindstorms Robots when we first pull them out. I felt something similar when I built my own worm bin (vermiculture!) following directions I found on YouTube. More power tools!
How often do teachers get to engage in hands on learning? Not often enough according to Bill Ferriter in his depressingly insightful post about adult learning in schools. Ferriter quotes Richard Elmore saying that "the brutal irony of our present circumstance is that schools are hostile and inhospitable places for learning." He doesn't end his post without offering an antidote though, a very do-able assignment asking leaders (administrators, or teacher-leaders) to teach teachers how to use an RSS.
This is one of the fabulous Commoncraft videos, I like the one on social networking too.
Next year, our "improvement of instruction" focus is going to be 21st Century Learners, with learners defined as teachers and students. To help our faculty engage as learners, we're going to offer a variety of activities, one of which is going to be "build your own interactive whiteboard." I hope it goes over well. I'd love more ideas for hands-on learning topics for teachers. I wonder if some of them would like to build a worm bin???