Category Archives: constructivism

Moment(us) teaching

At Constructing Modern Knowledge 2016, Carla Rinaldi, president of Reggio Children, gave an impassioned talk to the gathered educators about the lessons of the Reggio Emilia pre-school approach.
carla rinaldi cmk2016

She spoke about love, beauty, and respect for children (of all ages) and their learning process. She showed some photos and videos of children learning together and how teachers have the opportunity to make small decisions in this process. To watch or intervene; to ask a question or remain quiet; to suggest an expansion of the complexity of the children’s investigation or to help them simplify their ideas.

What struck me is how quietly these moments happen. These momentous moments are the heart and art of teaching.  Not only is this skill too often devalued and disrespected, but the time it takes to listen is dismissed as “wasted.”

Momentous is a word that is usually associated with BIG EVENTS, but the heart of the word is moment — a fleeting second of time where teachers make decisions that are not simple or fleeting.

Too often overlooked and underestimated, the moment occurs only when listening is valued, when respect exists between all the participants, and there is time to slow down and think hard about what to do in that moment.

Before you “do a makerspace” – four considerations

When we talk about making, there is a tendency to overlap our terms, like saying we’re going to “do makerspace”. I think unpacking these terms help uncover underlying assumptions, especially when designing new spaces and learning opportunities. I see this as four distinct aspects that work together:

  1. Place – Makerspace, hackerspace, Fab Lab, Techshop, shop, science lab, open classroom, studio
  2. Culture – Maker movement, hacker culture, craft, green, economic self-determinism, service-learning, artisanal, amateur science, citizen science, urban agriculture, slow food
  3. Process – Making, tinkering, Design Thinking, design, Genius Hour, PBL
  4. Underlying belief about teaching & learning – Instructionism, behaviorism, constructivism, constructionism

By looking at these four aspects, we can untangle some of the confusion about what “making” in education is. These can combine in interesting ways – you can have a Design Thinking program that is strongly teacher directed in a makerspace that has a green eco-streak that permeates the projects. The place doesn’t dictate the process, which is good and bad.

Many times, when designing new learning opportunities or spaces it is assumed that their current culture will transform as well. Space planning doesn’t magically transform pedagogy. You can’t assume that just because you build a flexible space with terrific materials, it will magically be filled with wonderful student-centered, open-ended projects.

Here’s a “cheat sheet” for the four aspects.

Place

Both formal (credit-bearing courses, primarily at schools) and informal (extra-curricular activities, clubs, libraries, museums, community organizations, commercial spaces)

  • Hackerspace – “Hacking” indicates both an activity and political belief that systems should be open to all people to change and redistribute for the greater good. (roots in the 1960’s). More prevalent in Europe than US.
  • Makerspace – MAKE magazine (2005 – present). Popular Science for the 21st century. DIY and DIWO. Maker Faires. Adopted as a softer, safer alternative to hackerspace. Can be a separate room or integrated into classrooms.
  • Fab Lab – Spaces connected to the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms (565 worldwide) with a common charter and specific requirements for space and tools. Fablab also used as a generic nickname for any fabrication lab.
  • TechShop (and others) – non-profit or commercial organizations offering community tool sharing, classes, or incubation space.
  • Shop, science lab, classroom, studio – traditional names for school spaces for learning via hands-on activities.

Culture

  • Maker movement – technology-based extension of DIY culture, incorporating hobbyist tools to shortcut a traditional (corporate) design and development process, and the internet to openly share problems and solutions. Maker mindset – a positive, energized attitude of active tinkering to solve problems, using any and all materials at hand.
  • Hacker/hacking – Essential lessons about the world are learned “..from taking things apart, seeing how they work, and using this knowledge to create new and even more interesting things.” – Steven Levy
  • Green – values of ecology, conservation, and respect for the environment.
  • Citizen/amateur science – participation of non-professional scientists in gathering and interpreting data or collaborating in research projects.
  • Artisanal/craft movements – engaging in mindful and ethical practices to humanize activities, products, and production.

Process

  • Making – the act of creation. “Learning by making happens only when the making changes the maker.” – Sylvia Martinez
  • Tinkering – non-linear, iterative approach to reaching a goal. “messing about” with materials, tools, and ideas. “Making, fixing, and improving mental constructions.” – Seymour Papert
  • Design Thinking – customer-centered product design and development process popularized by IDEO and the Stanford d.school
  • Design – “to give form, or expression, to inner feelings and ideas, thus projecting them outwards, making them tangible.” – Edith Ackermann
  • Genius Hour – specific classroom time devoted to tinkering and open-ended projects. Patterned after companies (Google and FedEx, primarily) that allow employees to work on non-company projects on company time, thereby boosting morale and possibly resulting in products useful to the company.
  • Project-based Learning (PBL) – Projects are…“work that is substantial, shareable, and personally meaningful.” – Martinez & Stager

Beliefs about teaching and learning

  • Instructionism – Belief that learning is the result of teaching. Lecture, direct instruction.
  • Behaviorism – Belief that behavior is a result of reinforcement and punishment. Rote learning, worksheets, stars/stickers, grades.
  • Constructivism – Piagetian idea that learning is a personal, internal reconstruction—not a transmission of knowledge. Socratic method, modeling, manipulatives, experiments, research, groupwork, inquiry.
  • Constructionism – Seymour Papert extended constructivism with the idea that learning is even more effective when the learner is creating a meaningful, shareable artifact. PBL, making, citizen science.

What does “making” have to do with learning?

Learning is an engagement of the mind that changes the mind.

—Martin Heidegger

One of the biggest issues I have with many descriptions of “making” in education is that it’s about students just being creative with tools or materials.  I strongly disagree. Making is not just the simple act of you being the difference between raw materials and finished product, as in “I made dinner” or even “I made a robot.” I don’t think we always need to ascribe learning to the act of making — but the act of making allows the maker, and maybe an outsider (a teacher, perhaps) to have a window into the thinking of the maker.

So, do you always need a teacher for learning to happen? No. Some people are good at thinking about their own process and learning from that (“Wow, that butter made the sauce so much better.” “Next time, I’ll test the circuit before I solder.”) and some people are less likely to do that. But if I watch you cook, I will see certain things – how you organize your ingredients, how you react when you make a mistake, how you deal with uncertainty — and that is what teaching is about. A teacher who is a careful observer can see these kinds of signs, and then challenge the learner with harder recipes, a question to make them think, more interesting ingredients, or a few tips — all with an eye towards helping the other person learn and grow.

Technology like Arduinos and 3D printers have not become intertwined with the maker movement in education simply because they are new, but because they are some of the most interesting ingredients out there. Many of these “maker materials” rely on computational technology, which supports design in ways not possible otherwise. The command “Save As..” is possibly the most important design tool ever invented. Saving your design file or code means you can “do again” without “doing over,” supporting the iterative process and encouraging increasingly complex designs.

Complex technology, especially computational technology also allows educators to answer the question, “Isn’t this just arts and crafts?” And of course after defending arts and crafts – we can say that computational technology allows these same mindful habits to connect with the powerful ideas of the modern world that we hope children learn. Design and making are not just important for the A in STEAM, they are essential, but here’s a bigger idea, they are also essential for the T & E — and for them all to come together.

There is simply no technology without design; the definition of the word is literally “things in the designed world.” Making is a way to realize the “logo” part of the word – from the Greek word (logos) that means “word” but specifically words that express the order and reason of the universe. To Greek philosophers, a word was more than a sound or a mark, it was the embodiment of an idea — an idea made real. And yes, the Logo programming language owns this derivation as well.

The power of using computational technology in education is that the versatility and transparent complexity allows learners to make their ideas real, to make sense of the world, and to see their own capacity grow. This visible process also allows teachers to support and scaffold learners on their journey.

Learning by making happens only when the making changes the maker.

How to teach coding

Or how NOT to teach coding.

I get a lot of email asking me to look at various computer programming lesson plans and curriculum. “Is it good? Should I use this?” people ask. Some people want me to endorse something, “We’ve created something the kids will love! It’s so maker!”

So let me share one secret, the very first thing I do when I click the link of whatever comes next in the email. I look at the first thing, the very first thing the kids are supposed to do. If lesson number one is bits, bytes, and binary arithmetic, I’m done.

Yes it’s that simple. (You may find it amusing that my decision-making process is so binary.) But it’s what poker players call a “tell.” It shows that they’ve resorted to the “building blocks” theory of learning. It shows that they’ve looked at lots of other programming lessons and that’s where everyone else starts. It ignores constructionist learning theory that the experience is the place to start.

In our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, we begin every chapter with a quote. One of my favorites is:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.  – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Project Approach – a project-based-learning framework

The EKWQ framework was developed by Sylvia Chard, a leading project-based-learning expert and author of The Project Approach. This chart summarizes the EKWQ framework.

EKWQ – Experience, Knowledge, Wonder, and asking Questions

A Framework to Start the Project Process

EKWQ builds on student experience to generate authentic student interest in a topic, shared knowledge, and practice in exploring the known parts of a topic before tackling the unknowns.

Strategy

Teacher’s Role

Students

Examples: what students do

Experience Ethnographer – learn what students already know through observation Share & represent existing experiences with topic. Tell stories, write, draw, make paintings and collages, make clay models, construct with blocks, role play, etc.
Knowledge Support student activities and encourage deeper explanations. Deepen prior knowledge and develop expertise Interview/survey each other, take notes, collect data. Represent the collected research in charts and graphs. Develop theories.
Wondering Coordinate work to develop collective understandings and research process Learn what other students know and explore differences. Share expertise. Draw conclusions and explore areas of interest, unknowns, and curiosity.
Ask Questions Articulate – Help students turn “wonders” into driving questions Develop driving questions for projects. Create lists of questions. Brainstorm ideas and consolidate.

Note: KWL (a popular instructional planning tool used to create charts of “what we Know”, “what we Want to know”, and “what we Learned”) may sound similar. However, Chard notes that KWL was designed for instruction centered on reading of texts and is not enough for a project, and worse, KWL can inhibit the development of student interest.

Read more about The Project Approach.

ISTE 2015: Ready for Making?

ISTE 2015 will be June 27-July 1 in Philadelphia, PA. This is an annual “big event” for technology loving educators, with upwards of 15,000 attendees and a huge vendor floor for new edu-gizmos and gadgets.

Two years ago, the word “maker” was barely found on the ISTE program. I believe that my session and Gary Stager’s were the only ones! But in recent years, more and more educators have found that the mindset of the “maker movement” resonates with them. New materials can invigorate project-based learning, and the global maker community is a vibrant learning space that inspires and surprises.

This year’s schedule has a wide array of opportunities to learn more or get started with “making” in the classroom. There’s even a search filter for the topic. Select “Constructivist Learning/ Maker Movement” and 63 sessions, posters, and workshops appear! That’s like a billion trillion percent increase over a couple of years (I swear! Do the math! OK… maybe I’m exaggerating, but it’s because I’m excited this is getting so much attention.)

Search for yourself (select from the Focus/Topic on the left)

So, no need for me to make a list of all these sessions like I’ve done in past years – but here are my and Gary’s events at ISTE. Come find me and say hi!

My events and sessions

Sunday June 28

** Update – SOLD OUT – sorry! 🙁 ** – Gary Stager and I will be hosting a day called “Making, Learning, Fun!” from 9AM – 3PM at Maggiano’s Little Italy (2 blocks from the Conference Center) with fabulous maker activities, great food, and a free copy of the new book “The Invent to Learn Guide to Fun”.  Don’t miss out – very limited space! Click here.

Monday June 29

The Maker Movement: A Global Revolution Goes to School Monday, June 29, 2:30–3:30 pm Sylvia Martinez  PCC Ballroom A

LOL@ISTE Again: Yes, This Will Be on the Test! Monday, June 29, 8:30–9:30 am Cathie Norris, Elliot Soloway, Gary Stager, Michael Jay, Saul Rockman, Sean McDonough

Making, Love and Learning Monday, June 29, 11:00 am–12:00 pm Gary Stager

Is It Time to Give Up on Computers in Schools? Monday, June 29, 12:45–1:45 pm Audrey Watters, David Thornburg, Gary Stager, Wayne D’Orio, Will Richardson

Tuesday June 30

Girls & STEM: Making it Happen Tuesday, June 30, 4:00–5:00 pm Sylvia Martinez PCC Ballroom B

Mobile Learning Playground: Block Party at the Makerspace Tuesday, June 30, 9:30 am–1:00 pm
I’ll be there from 11AM – 11:30 AM talking about “Getting Started with Making in the Classroom”

See you there!

FabLearn Resources for Making in Classrooms, Libraries, Museums, & Community Centers

The Stanford FabLearn Fellows have posted some of their favorite resources on making in education.

New report: Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature

A new literature review was just released by the Board of Science Education (an NSF funded program associated with the National Academies) called:

Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature, by Shirin Vossoughi and Bronwyn Bevan (The PDF is linked from a list, click here and scroll down)

The Board of Sciences has commisioned this and several other papers focused on informal and afterschool STEM learning. More information and links to the other papers are on their website.

The paper is a goldmine of research supporting tinkering and making activities that support learning – not just in STEM and not just in informal settings. Paulo’s research, Papert, and Leah Buechley’s FabLearn 2013 speech are all referenced (and my book too!)

The list of the other commissioned papers is interesting as well. All the papers are linked from this site.

Commissioned Papers

Formative Assessment for STEM Learning Ecosystems: Biographical approaches as a resource for research and practice by Brigid Barron

Citizen Science and Youth Education by Rick Bonney, Tina B. Phillips, Jody Enck, Jennifer Shirk, and Nancy Trautmann

Evidence & Impact: Museum-Managed STEM Programs in Out-of-School Settings, by Bernadette Chi, Rena Dorph & Leah Reisman

Children Doing Science: Essential Idiosyncrasy and the Challenges of Assessment by David Hammer and Jennifer Radoff

Broadening Access to STEM Learning through Out-of-School Learning Environments by Laura Huerta Migus

Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature, by Shirin Vossoughi and Bronwyn Bevan

Is “Student-Centered” Just Code for Lord of the Flies?

Working this past year with the FabLearn Fellows has been an incredible experience. These 18 educators from around the globe are leading the way to understanding the benefits of “making” in formal and informal learning spaces.

This post from Christa Flores, called, The “Unstructured Classroom” and other misconceptions about Constructivist Learning tackles some of the misunderstandings that people have about making in the classroom. There is fear that “letting go” of the reins as a teacher means that students will just wander aimlessly or worse, the anarchy will ensue. On the flip side, people have ungrounded hopes that simply giving students choice and agency over their own learning will magically create perfect learning conditions.

Christa explains,

“In the three years that I have been teaching science through the lens of making or inventing and problem solving, I have often heard the iLab, referred to as “unstructured,” by some well meaning adults. This harkens back to the discord between what we know progressive education can be versus what we envision when we think of a “progressive classroom.” When I worked at Calhoun in New York City, we were considered a progressive school and we often had the debate about what we mean by the term “unstructured.” The debate would invariably follow a conversation with a nervous parent that would go something like this, “Its good for some kids maybe, but my son doesn’t do well in an “unstructured” classroom.”

Christa tackles the claim that unstructured classrooms are unplanned classrooms by offering examples of student-centered work in her classrooms. Teacher planning and preparation do not mean that the teacher is planning everything that happens in the classroom, but instead is shaping a learning environment with care AND pedagogical and content knowledge.

Please read the rest of Christa’s blog post on the FabLearn Fellows site!

The Maker Movement: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I just wrote a short blog for Edutopia about whether “making in the classroom” is just a fad, and what we can do to make sure it isn’t –

Should we worry that making in the classroom is just the new-new thing, soon to be replaced by some other newer new-new thing? Should we worry that lots of schools will run out and buy 3D printers without thinking about what they will do with them? Yes, I think we should worry, but not give up! To prevent this, I like to combine the work of education pioneers and giants with the new work of scholars to show that this is more than just a fad or a chance for a shopping spree.

Read the rest of: The Maker Movement: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants to Own the Future