Why is “making” in education taking off globally? It’s because the whole world wants children to become competent and capable citizens.
Last week I had the honor and privilege of speaking to a global audience of educators at the eighth annual Global Education Conference, an online conference that supports global collaboration and connected education. The conference is unique in that it is a free, online event that takes place around the clock during International Education Week.
The sessions are now available online – mine is embedded here, but be sure to check out all the keynotes and sessions. There are inspiring collaborative project ideas, sessions on encouraging student voice, global education case studies, and more – both for K-12 and Higher Education.
The Global Education Conference organizers, Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon, are experts at facilitating online conferences and face to face events. They will be hosting events at TCEA, ASCD, COSN, and ISTE, so be sure to sign up to be notified of these and other future opportunities.
I’ll be a featured speaker at the Future of Educational Technology Conference this upcoming January in Orlando, Florida. The fine folks at FETC have supplied a code for you to get a super discount to this conference — 10% off by using the Promo Code MARTINEZ18.
Plus – register now for early bird savings – FETC’s $150.00 Super Savings ends next Friday, Nov. 17. Use the link (or my promo code at the regular conference site) and get both discounts!
Hope to see you there! Here’s my lineup:
PBL Gets a “Make”-Over: Prompts and Assessments for Maker Classrooms
The Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail interviewed me for an article about schools and the Maker Movement in Vancouver. The Maker Movement in schools has students learning by doingby Anne Casselman and Paul Attfield really captures the excitement of many different classrooms integrating design, technology, and making.
“We want to turn little kids into little creative minds,” says interim head of school Susan Groesbeck. “This is the opposite of rote learning.”
“We want to be one of the schools that has this, not as a frill or as an add-on, but really integrates it into the curriculum. The children are going to be excited and so super challenged.”
Ever since the Maker Movement got going in the early 2000s, it was a matter of time before the tech-oriented DIY movement’s philosophies were adopted into the classroom, as teachers and librarians saw the value of creating dedicated tinkering spaces, known as makerspaces, for students.
“For a lot of the history of school, we’ve kind of done this rote memorization and standardized testing as a means of providing an efficient [education] system, all the while ignoring the fact that it’s not how most people learn,” says Sylvia Libow Martinez, co-author of the book Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom.
“What’s good about the Maker Movement is it’s helping teachers find their own voice and be able to articulate what’s right about education in a way that makes sense in the modern world.”
“We really want kids to leave here feeling that they are problem finders and problem solvers. We don’t know what the problems are going to be in the future. We don’t know the technology these students are going to be using, so it’s not about coding for the sake of coding, or teaching saw skills for the sake of being able to saw,” says Andrea Ryan, the school’s learning specialist for design integration. “It’s that sense of empowerment to be able to go forth and be and do.”
“Strong research suggests that messing around is not wasted time and that it’s actually what the brain needs to both relax and concentrate on important aspects,” says Ms. Martinez, who stresses the difference between handing children a bunch of app-laden tablets and what happens in educational makerspaces, where children are in charge of technology.
“If you’re just going to replicate the most rote, the most boring parts of school on a computer screen, that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Ms. Martinez explains that the technology unto itself is not equivalent to teaching. The distinction between having children in charge of the technology, and children passively consume it is key, as identified by the late Seymour Papert, pioneer of educational technology and MIT Media Lab professor.
“One of [Dr.] Papert’s seminal questions is: Does the child program the computer or does the computer program the child,” she says. “And you have to know which side you’re on.”
You may have heard that it’s best to “ease” into hands-on project-based learning at the start of the school year. Maybe you feel your students aren’t ready, need some skills development, or just need to have a few weeks of settling down before getting started with more independent work.
I think this is a big mistake.
Why? Two reasons: habits are formed and messages matter starting day one.
If you are looking at making and makerspace activities as a way to give students more agency over their own learning, why not start building those habits immediately to send that message early and often.
Many teachers feel that they have students who aren’t ready for a more independent approach to learning. However, how will they get ready if they don’t practice it? Many teachers say that students have to be “unschooled” out of practices like constantly expecting to be told what to do. So why not start to build those habits and expectations on day one?
That doesn’t mean that you have to start with a monumental project. Start with something small. Shorter, more contained projects will build their confidence and skills. Mix these projects with less structured time to explore, invent, and tinker. If it’s chaos, you can add some constraints, but don’t give up!
Empowering students to believe in themselves as capable of making things that matter, both in the physical and digital world, is a crucial part of learning.
The message is also going home to parents every day — what they expect to see all year starts today. Explain what you are doing and why, and reinforce that with every communication with parents.
So whatever you call it, making, project-based learning, hands-on, or inquiry learning – the time to start is always NOW!
“Sylvia and Gary’s book became an instant classic that in a short time has influenced classroom practice around the world. While on the surface, Invent to Learn seems to be a book about the nascent Maker Movement that has gained great popularity in recent years, this is more a book about how to create opportunities for deep and powerful learning for kids that is amplified by technology. Building on the work and ideas of Seymour Papert, this is one of the few books that situates real learning in a fully modern context.”
Modern Learners, a global online community headed by Bruce Dixon and Will Richardson, features podcasts, courses, and a platform for educators to join in conversations about changing the practice of school.
In part 1 of this two part series, I shared four attributes of ideas about education that successfully become common knowledge. In this post, part 2, the topic is whether making and makerspaces in education are here to stay or whether they will fade in popularity.
The current interest in schools in making and makerspaces has many parallels to these examples. Looking at each one of these attributes under a “maker” microscope is an interesting exercise!
People have to hear about it and believe it’s important. It has to address a timely, significant issue on teacher’s minds. It also has to come from a place that inspires believability. (To be blunt on this last point, prestigious university credentials matter.)
The maker movement came at an opportune time for the resurgence of the idea that children learn through hands-on, minds-on experiences. Having popular media create a widespread acceptance that DIY and crafts are modern and futuristic helps with the adoption of this idea.
Having multiple, prestigious universities like Stanford, MIT, and Harvard doing research that supports making in education is important. The intellectual pedigree may be seen as elitist, but there is no doubt that it works as shorthand for establishing credibility.
It jigsaws with two contemporary concerns without really taking a side:
The current interest in STEM/STEAM education driven by a perceived lack of preparation of today’s youth for jobs in important industries.
The concern that young people do not see school as relevant to their real passions, including wanting to make the world a better place as opposed to making money.
Educators often complain that scholars don’t have any idea what happens in real classrooms. Scholars complain that educators rely on folk wisdom and tradition rather than research. But when scholarship validates what teachers feel, it has a special resonance.
Making is an obvious backlash to the standards and accountability movements of the last 30 years. It gives teachers a concrete way to put their beliefs–-or at least an answer to their nagging doubts–-into practice.
The maker movement can be seen through a number of lenses: personal accountability, a new economic engine, techno-centrism, globalism, practical skills, community involvement, ecology, etc. These attributes transfer to making in education, creating a chameleon that takes whatever shape educators and the community desire.
Like Bloom’s Taxonomy, the vagueness of “maker education” might be an asset in more widespread adoption.
The idea has to be easily put into use. It must not require extensive training or major changes to existing structures and practices.
This is an ongoing issue for making in education. If it requires a wholesale shakeup in the way a school is run, the subjects that are taught, and the way teachers teach, that is a big lift. It may, like the project method, become an add-on practice.
Seymour Papert often compared the way school reacts to big ideas like the computer as an immune system response. School identifies a foreign idea, overwhelms it, and neutralizes it.
“Previously teachers with a few computers in the classroom were using them to move away from the separation of subject matters, and the breakup of the day. When the administration takes over they make a special room, and they put the computers in that room and they have a computer period with a computer teacher. Instead of becoming something that undermines all these antiquated teachings of school, computers became assimilated. It is inherent in school, not because teachers are bad or schools are bad, but in all organisms that have come to a stable equilibrium state in the world, that they have a tendency to preserve the inertia they have. So school turned what could be a revolutionary instrument into essentially a conservative one. School does not want to radically change itself. The power of computers is not to improve school but to replace it with a different kind of structure.” http://www.papert.org/articles/SchoolsOut.html
Re-read the paragraph above replacing “makerspace” for “computer lab” and “3D printer” (or your favorite maker technology) for “computer.” Has anything changed?
It was certainly a good thing that children got access to computers. But in many schools, students only learned to use computers to take notes, write reports, and look things up–-hardly new ways to learn. Computer labs and computer classes instead resulted in schools being satisfied that they were using modern technology without having to actually change the content or pedagogy of any “regular” class. The computer lab became a misdirection, an excuse for the status quo, rather than a driver of change.
How will it feel, if two years or twenty years from now we look back and say exactly the same thing about makerspaces? That we built them, we tried to integrate making into the curriculum, we thought it would change everything–but nothing happened.
When schools insist that making fit into existing curriculum and subjects, it’s reasonable to agree and to try to create materials that help teachers do that. The risk is twofold: 1. If this doesn’t happen and making is not in the curriculum, it will always be on the outside, not a core need or intent of school and not impacting most students. 2. If we do make it work in the curriculum, it will simply be muted, and gradually absorbed as the school creates a new stable equilibrium without really making any change to the lived experiences of the students.
Either of these choices ends up with nothing really changing.
The other option, as Papert points out, is to replace school with a “different kind of structure.” Is that giving up… or facing reality?
Can educators have their feet pointed in two directions at once–both working to drastically change the system and at the same time, assisting students in the current system to have a better experience? Is “occupational realism” a death sentence for ideas that are truly revolutionary?
The research and terminology must be easily understood. It must have both a big idea that can be quickly expressed, and simple parts that support the whole.
The good thing about “making” is that it’s an easy word to understand. Students need to do things, and educators can visualize that happening at every grade level, and perhaps with a little help, in every subject area.
It embodies the commonly understood ideals of the project method, plus embraces more modern versions like PBL. To that it adds a bundle of futuristic and cool tools to work with.
A note about independent schools
Private independent schools have been early and enthusiastic adopters of making in education. While it is easy to point to these schools having the financial resources to purchase expensive technology, there are deeper reasons that making resonates with independent schools. This was also true of the theory of Multiple Intelligences. In his book, Schneider makes the case that independent schools, primarily elite, non-parochial schools were primary drivers for the popularity of MI.
Independent schools are typically more progressive than public schools. MI provided new support for these ideals and scientific language to communicate these progressive ideals to parents and staff.
Independent schools are typically freer than public schools to try new approaches and curriculum than public schools. Using MI to recalibrate activities in the classrooms was seen as part of the school mission, not as disruptive.
At a time where schools were being called failures and under duress to teach in a more rigorous, standardized way, MI gave independent schools a way to push back on this trend and claim that their progressive methods were scientifically based.
As a market-driven organization, independent schools constantly need new things to prove to parents that they are worth the money. MI was an understandable concept, and validated by the Harvard pedigree, an easy sell to parents.
Independent schools have traditionally valued the arts, MI provided a way to say that the arts were not detracting from academics.
Independent schools catered to parental expectations that their child would be treated as an individual. MI provided clarity that personalization could be scientifically based, not just left to chance.
There are certainly noteworthy parallels between MI and the adoption of making and makerspaces in independent schools. It is good to note that in many cases, the adoption of MI in independent schools created examples of practice that made their way into public schools. MI supporters were found in many communities, working to make all schools happier and more humane.
Is “Making” going to stick?
Will making in education have a lasting effect on education, or will it become just another “new new thing” that is overtaken by some newer new thing? It certainly has the perceived significance. Both academic credentials and cultural trends are working in its favor. It has philosophical compatibility with many teachers and parents too. They see children starving in a desert of worksheets and tests and know there must be a better way.
There may be more to worry about in other areas. In some cases it has transportability, especially when using simplified models like Design Thinking. The problem is that simplified models and canned lesson plans are a double-edged sword. As they helps teachers with operational realities, it removes agency from the teacher. Is it inevitable that creating a version of making in education that is widely acceptable will by its nature create unacceptable compromises?
It may be that countries other than the United States hold the answer. American teachers have the least amount of professional preparation time in the world. They participate in less professional development, have less time to plan lessons, and spend less time with colleagues. The US is a large country with a fractured educational governance and dissemination path for educational information. US teachers are underpaid, overworked, and given all these realities, may simply not be in a position to undertake changes.
While educational theorists often talk about wanting to scale good practice, there may be such a thing as “too big to scale,” especially when it comes to complex ideas.
For proponents of making in education, the longevity and widespread adoption of ideas like Multiple Intelligences offers hope that making will become a long-term trend in schools.
Tracking the history of these ideas as they journeyed from research to practice is a fascinating look not just at education, but also politics, culture, personalities, and pure luck. Contrasting each these ideas with four similar ones that did not receive the same attention makes the case even more compelling.
1 – Perceived significance:People have to hear about the idea multiple times and believe it’s important. It has to address a timely, significant issue on teacher’s minds. It also has to come from a place that inspires believability. (To be blunt on this last point, prestigious university credentials matter.)
For example, Multiple Intelligence theory helped teachers explain that students who don’t do well in school aren’t simply unintelligent. At a time when school was becoming more standardized (1980s), it was a big picture explanation of how teachers could still meet student needs without really changing curriculum. Coming from Howard Gardner, a respected Harvard professor, meant that it would be listened to, talked about, and taken seriously.
2 – Philosophical compatibility:Educators often complain that scholars don’t have any idea what happens in real classrooms. Scholars complain that educators rely on folk wisdom and tradition rather than research. But when scholarship validates what teachers feel, it has a special resonance.
At the turn of the 20th century, rote learning and recitation were the primary modes of schooling. Many teachers felt that there was more to learning, but were powerless to change the system. William Kilpatrick, on the faculty of Columbia University’s Teachers College wrote about what he called “the project method.” It validated teachers’ feelings that something was wrong. It offered an explanation that made sense, and a way to operationalize that in a classroom.
3 – Occupational realism:The idea has to be easily put into use. It must not require extensive training or major changes to existing structures and practices.
Both Bloom’s taxonomy and MI had occupational realism in that teachers didn’t have to change very much to feel like they were using these scientific methods in their classroom.
In the book’s discussion of “the project method,” the practical application in the classroom was its weakest point. It wasn’t clear how to do it, and even if it was possible, seemed to call for a complete overhaul of school structures and curriculum. Therefore it was mostly adopted as something that happened every once in a while as an add-on to the curriculum. As time went on, widespread adoption of formulaic projects subverted the power and promise of the idea. The book discusses the spread of the “California Mission Project” as an example. (For those of you not in California, every fourth grader in California builds a model of a Spanish mission, and has for decades.) The poor implementation of the project method on its way to occupational realism was the price paid for its widespread acceptance and endurance.
The review of why Direct Instruction became so widespread is especially interesting. It violates the second principle of “philosophical compatibility” because many teachers do not believe in scripted curriculum. However, at the time (late 1960s), political pressure for accountability and cost reductions required a curriculum that did not need a highly trained professional, yet produced increased standardized test scores. Despite complaints that students were being treated like trained animals, politics and budget cuts overwhelmed that objection.
DI solved multiple problems. It made it easier to spend less on teacher training and teacher salaries, increased test scores, allowed larger class sizes, and satisfied the “back to basics” movement all at the same time. The occupational realism of Direct Instruction was above all, institutional and political, rather than classroom centered.
4 – Transportability:The research and terminology must be easily understood. It must have both a big idea that can be quickly expressed, and simple parts that support the whole.
Bloom’s Taxonomy started off as an assessment scheme, a way to be more objective by defining different kinds of questions for students to answer. It quickly leaked out of assessment, as educators applied the structure to every part of the educational process from planning onwards, taking Bloom’s into a whole new area for which it had not been intended.
As time went on, the original complex definitions were simplified and recast as a pyramid that implied a progression from bottom to top. Teachers started seeing the drawing of the pyramid everywhere in their professional lives, and every instance reinforced the idea that it was reliable. This cycle of positive reinforcement-–of exposure validating reliability, and so in turn creating more exposure–-is typical of ideas that gain traction.
Fifty years before Bloom, MI, and DI, “the project method” found its way to millions of teachers. It had a persuasive and tireless advocate in William Kilpatrick, from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He was an ambitious academic who wanted more than just scholarly fame. He convinced the publication Teachers College Record to publish his article, “The Project Method” and give it away for free to teachers. Sixty thousand copies were printed and distributed nationwide. Thousands of subsequent papers and articles were written about the project method and its application to all grade levels and subjects.
Although not a new idea, Kilpatrick wrote in a clear and less formal manner than many academics, including his teacher and mentor John Dewey. Kilpatrick was also genuinely interested in real classrooms. While some of his colleagues complained that he was a self-promoter tarnishing the reputation of academia, the results spoke for themselves.
The project method made such an inroad into teacher education in the first half of the 20th century that it became a part of every teacher’s classroom practice up to this day. The resurgence of various project methods in the 1960’s and 70’s (PBL, The Project Approach, etc) simply built on the collective consciousness of this idea from a half century earlier.
The project method became so popular that “project” became a term of art, not a specific method tied to one person. One can only assume that Professor Kilpatrick would be a bit miffed by this.
Ideas make their way into the world
The book creates a case that one of the reasons that most of these ideas took hold was that they were both specific and general at the same time. They also had a wide variety of interpreters and promoters who helped spread the message.
Bloom’s Taxonomy gave teachers a new way to look at classroom practice, yet didn’t require any particular belief or theory of pedagogy to implement. If you were progressive, it matched your understanding that growth is at least as important as learning specific facts. If you were more of a traditionalist, it provided a path from content to deeper understanding. The lack of opposition was an opportunity for it to spread widely. Everyone saw what they wanted reflected in an idea from a highly respected source. Schneider says the taxonomy was, “… an idea that somehow had the power to generate multiple constituencies without sparking opposition.”
Various providers of professional development created materials that further examined Bloom’s Taxonomy and provided specific curriculum and lesson planning advice. For the time, Bloom was remarkably open about supporting various groups, authors, and companies to interpret his work. These satellite disseminators made it easier to access the work, and even though some complained that it was misinterpreted or diluted, it was widely spread. These providers helped the idea gain the operational realism that it lacked in earliest incarnations. They answered the question — What would a teacher DO exactly, in a classroom where Bloom’s Taxonomy was a driving idea?
What does this mean for today’s ideas about making in education?
While at FETC I had a pleasure of sitting down for a short interview with The EduTech Guys. Their motto is, “Come for the tech, stay for the talk.” The EduTechGuys are Jeff Madlock and David Henderson, who host an ongoing podcast plus go to conferences doing live coverage!
It was a ton of fun and I hope to join them for more episodes.
One of the questions I get asked quite a lot is about budgets for educational makerspaces. We are doing this on a shoestring, is that OK? We don’t have any money, is it still worth doing?
My first reaction is typical, I think – of course go for it! No one should be prevented from having a great hands-on learning experience because of lack of funds. There are lots of things that can be repurposed and borrowed. In fact, recycling is a hallmark of the “maker mindset.” Doing more with less is a worthy engineering constraint that develops ingenuity and practical skills.
However, I think there is a “yes… but” that should be understood. When educators are trying to change culture and practices in an organization, it matters that you acknowledge the size of the shift you are trying to accomplish. A bigger shift requires a bigger and more explicit commitment, and having a budget is a visible and commonly understood sign of commitment.
Whether it’s wanting STEM courses to be more inclusive or shifting teaching practices to be to more project-based, it’s about how far you want to go from where you are. You want big changes? Do big things. Of course, it’s not always about money. Your commitment might be towards long-term professional development, but that’s a commitment of time, an even more precious commodity.