Next week I’ll be hosted by the FabLearn DK (also known as Fablab@schools DK) network, a group of 44 (and growing) schools in four municipalities in Denmark: Kolding, Vejle, Silkeborg and Aarhus. These schools share resources, professional development, and expertise in their quest to engage students in high quality fabrication, design, and engineering experiences within the context of existing schools.
I’ll be one of the keynotes at FabLearn DK (sold out!) — but more importantly, I’ll be meeting and working with educators and learning from them. I’m very excited and honored that I can spend a week with these schools.
This is potentially a model of the elusive “scale” that so many educators seek from “maker education.”
An integral part of this effort is that a team from the University of Aarhus, led by Ole Sejer Iversen, has been documenting and conducting research from the start of the project to study how digital fabrication could promote 21st century skills in educational contexts. Here are some preliminary (draft) results from one report to be released very soon.
Fablab@school.dk status 2017
Number of firstname.lastname@example.org (schools): 44
Teachers engaged: 1,160
Students engaged: 12,000
Scaling the Fablab@school initiative towards 2019 (estimates)
Number of email@example.com (schools): 61
Teachers engaged: 3,050
Students engaged: 19,100
In a 2016 survey study with 450 firstname.lastname@example.org affiliated students (aged 11-15) and 15 in-depth interviews we found that:
FabLab students improved their understandings of digital fabrication technologies and design
FabLab students gained experience with a range of digital fabrication technologies
FabLab students found the work with digital fabrication technologies motivating, interesting, and useful for their futures. They “liked” FabLab, “loved projects with digital fabrication”, and “learned a lot.”
Learning outcomes and motivation were very dependent on schools and teachers*
Also quoting from the draft:
There were large variations within the FabLab group with regard to the number of technologies used, design process structuring, student motivation, and students’ self-perceived knowledge, as well as on self- perceived learning outcomes such as creativity with digital fabrication technologies, abilities to critically reflect on the use of digital technologies, and complex problem solving. The variations among groups of schools followed a pattern in which higher numbers of technologies, more knowledge of the design process model, higher motivation, and better learning outcomes appeared to be connected.
In schools in which students used a wide range of technologies, worked with own ideas with a diverse range of digital technologies, and had their work scaffolded and structured around the AU Design Process Model** to a high degree, students reported that they had on average become better at imagining change with technology, at working creatively with technology, at understanding how new technologies are created, and at understanding how technology is affecting our lives as well as at solving complex problems. Thus, the FabLab@School.dk project did initiate the development of Design literacy among some students. However, it was very much up to chance, what education in digital fabrication and design processes, the students received.
* Shocking, eh? (NOT) The full report goes into more detail on these variations, but it’s no surprise that when you give people more agency, they tend to do unique things. Can we all strive for excellence? Sure – but that’s not the same as everyone doing the same thing. Scale does not have to mean replication. More on this later.
** The Aarhus University (AU) Design Process Model is a specific design process being developed for educational use. The schools were free to use (or not use) this model with students.
In the past decade, the terms makerspace, hackerspace, and fablab have come on the horizon. These are new names for what people have always done—come together to fix things, make new things, and learn from each other.
These spaces support learning and doing in a way that redefines both traditional schooling and traditional manufacturing. Smart tools, rapid prototyping, digital fabrication, and computational technology combine with the global reach of the internet to share ideas, solutions to problems, and best of all, the actual designs of things you can make yourself. These spaces are launch pads for a future where people of all ages can be agents of change rather than objects of change.
Hackerspace – “Hacking” is both the action and belief that systems should be open to all people to change and redistribute for the greater good and often done for fun and amazement. It’s unfortunately recently gained the connotation of illegal and invasive computer activity, which was not part of the original meaning. Hackerspaces are more prevalent in Europe than the US (and apparently Australia, see the map). A hackerspace is typically communally operated. There are many models and no common set of requirements. Hackerspaces.org has a wiki with over a thousand active spaces listed.
Makerspace – Since MAKE magazine debuted in 2005, the word “making” has been adopted as a softer, safer alternative to hacking. This is especially true in K-12 schools, libraries, museums, and youth centers where the subversive aspect of “hacking” might be seen as negative or even criminal. You can see on the Google trends graph (above), that searches for the term “makerspace” started gaining momentum around 2013 as “hackerspace” started trending downward. “Makerspace” is now catching up with “fablab” (especially in the US). There is no single organizational body or rules about what a makerspace should be.
Fablab – Short for “fabrication lab,” fablab is a generic term, a nod to Fab Labs (see next) without formally joining the network. Even though the “fab” refers to digital fabrication, the activities in fablabs aren’t restricted to 3D printing and laser cutting. They run the gamut of physical and digital construction, using tools, crafts, and modern technology.
Fab Lab – The non-generic use of the term refers to spaces and organizations who participate in a network run by the Fab Foundation led by Neil Gershenfeld and Sherry Lassiter of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms. Neil Gershenfeld is the author of the 2005 book “Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication” that predicted much of the impact that personal fabrication tools would have on the world. As of October 2016, the Fab Lab network includes 713 Fab Labs worldwide. All Fab Labs have a common charter and specific requirements for space and tools including digital fabrication tools, milling machines, cutters, CNC machines, etc. Every Fab Lab is required to have free and open access to the public and participate in the network.
FabLearn Labs – Formerly known as Fablab@school, FabLearn is run out of the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab (TLTL), a research group led by Paulo Blikstein within Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. These K-12 school-based labs, developed in collaboration with university partners internationally, put digital fabrication and other cutting-edge technology for design and construction into the hands of middle and high school students. The goal of FabLearn Labs is similar to the Fab Lab network, but with a focus on the special needs and practices that support K-12 education.
Other space names
Tool sharing co-operatives, clubs, and community workshops – The are an infinite variety of non-profit and commercial organizations offering community tool sharing, classes, or incubation space for all ages. They usually offer different kinds of fee-based membership packages, but even commercial spaces may offer some free access in the spirit of serving the local community. These spaces offer different configurations of equipment, some focusing on heavy power tools, some offering artistic tools and space, while others are more electronics and computer-oriented. They also organize around different principles including community support, job training, DIY workspace, after-school/summer youth activities, small business incubators, recycling, or art studio. Some are adult only, while others have activities for youth and families.
School – Don’t forget that there is a long tradition of hands-on learning spaces in schools variously called labs, studios, shops, libraries, and even classrooms! It doesn’t have to be a new space with a new name. Libraries don’t have to change their name to be a place where hands-on activities are as important as the books on the shelves. While a refresh is always good, a school makerspace should not mean throwing away books or closing the auto shop. There is incredible potential to be found in integrating these activities—and integrating the segregated populations they tend to serve.
Libraries, museums, community centers and other local organizations are embracing the makerspace concept, with modern technology updates to hands-on activities and discovery centers beloved by generations of young people.
What’s the difference? What’s best?
As you can see, the differences are mostly historical, with increasing overlap in the terms. There are so many different models, with different missions, organization structures, and audiences, that it’s difficult to pin it down.
When these spaces serve children, the term “makerspace” is more prevalent than “hackerspace” simply because it sounds safe and legal. A few years ago, “fablab” was slightly more widespread globally, but I believe that “makerspace” has overtaken it in popularity. In any case, there is little difference between the generic use of fablab and makerspace. Makerspaces are now found in many K-12 schools, colleges/universities, libraries, museums, and community organizations. There is no special list of required tools, nor do makerspaces have to belong to any organization.
This looseness has pros and cons, of course.
Flexibility sets a low bar to entry
The benefit of a looser definition of makerspace is that it can be more inclusive and flexible. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or even have a special space. Anyone can have a makerspace; any place can be a makerspace. And as we claim in our book, Invent to Learn, every classroom should be a makerspace, where children make meaning, not just ingest facts to prepare for tests.
But while one makerspace may be a fully stocked industrial warehouse of cutting edge digital fabrication equipment, another is a box of craft materials, and others are everything in between. How do we even talk about, much less come to consensus about what works? How do we communicate best practices or any practices, for that matter? If everything and anything can be a makerspace, what is the value? What can we point to and say is special and different? We just don’t want to rename spaces and do nothing else. If “makerspace” comes to mean any space where kids touch something other than a pencil, then it means nothing.
Commonality provides context
One benefit of the formal Fab Lab model is that every space has similar tools. When they share information, plans, and processes, there is a better chance that it will make sense in other spaces. There is an expectation that every Fab Lab will participate in the network, learning and growing together while maintaining individual differences. This creates strong ties between spaces and a strong identity for the participants. There are events and opportunities for members like the Fab Lab conferences and Fab Lab Academy which offers credit and diplomas through nodes of the Fab Lab network worldwide. They can participate in global efforts like building sustainable wireless internet infrastructure, fabbing solar houses, and tracking global environmental data.
The downside of the Fab Lab requirements is that not every organization can afford the full list of tools. Since the Fab Lab charter requires open public access, they can’t charge membership fees. It’s a constant challenge to keep the doors open, the lights on, and to maintain staff and equipment. Some Fab Labs are associated with local universities, community organizations, or foundations that assist with the financial aspect, but others just get by. There is no doubt that money can be a limiting factor.
As with most things, there is no one right answer. Or rather, the right answer is the one that works for you and your community.
Networks, nodes, and identity
All of these space names imply similar ideas, and in fact, many spaces identify with multiple missions. You will find makerspaces listed on the Hackerspaces.org website and many Fab Labs that have close partnerships with K-12 schools. There are many spaces that create their own name in the spirit of their unique mission.
The first Fab Lab established off the MIT campus was the South End Technology Center in Boston. The center serves the community with low cost technology training, but also has innovative youth-led, youth-taught programs. The Youth Education Director at SETC is Susan Klimczak, who is also a Senior FabLearn Fellow and shares her expertise with educators around the world. This is just one example of how spaces can embrace multiple identities and belong to multiple networks to the benefit of all.
I don’t mind that there are many names for the spaces and experiences that people are having. It reflects the way people really learn, in unique and personal ways. There is no reason that every learning space, including the name, should not be unique and personal as well!
I had the opportunity to see Bran Ferren speak at an event (Infosys Crossroads) recently. He’s an “American technologist, artist, architectural designer, vehicle designer, engineer, lighting and sound designer, visual effects artist, scientist, lecturer, photographer, entrepreneur, and inventor.” (Wikipedia)
During his fascinating talk, he drew a quick sketch that looked like this:
And he described how change always happens – by some “new way” sneaking up and overtaking the “old way” of doing it. And by “it” he meant nearly everything – technology, business practices, fashion, customs, politics, art… the list is endless.
Then he added a few lines. The problem, he said, is that we never know where we really are on this curve. Ahead of the change? In the midst? Or it’s long past and perhaps we don’t even realize it.
It made me think about school. The number of students who believe that school is relevant to their lives is going down exactly as the opportunities for people to learn through informal, global networks are exploding exponentially.
Where are we on this curve? Can we change “school” – meaning formal education systems and organizations before it’s too late? Are we bold enough, are we brave enough to make the big decisions and perhaps painful changes that are necessary?
Scott McLeod of the Dangerously Irrelevant blog has been asking for posts on leadership for seven years now on what he calls “Leadership Day”. This is a great emerging resource with so many interesting perspectives – almost 500 blog posts! I’ve participated in some years, with my own range of perspectives (see below).
In the past few years my focus has shifted from student leadership to the new affordances of the Maker Movement in K-12 classrooms. Since writing Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, my perspective has changed, but in many ways, also reinforced what I already knew about the power of student agency and ownership of their own learning.
The Maker Movement is a global learning revolution that offers a way to look at leadership in a new way that is relevant for both schools and communities.
For example, in this video architects in Amsterdam talk about the process of designing a 3D printer big enough to build a house, building that printer, and then starting to print the house. When you watch this video, there is an interesting part where they decide to put the KamerMaker (roombuilder) out on the front lawn of their office so that the community can come and see what’s going on and offer their perspectives.
Leadership in the Maker Movement doesn’t mean “I do, you repeat” – it means that together we are better. It may seem messy and inefficient to some people, but I think it’s a leadership model for the modern, connected world we live in.
2008 – Just Do It where I urged administrators to stop waiting for the district reorg or the next version of Windows or that bandwidth you were promised 3 years ago and get moving. Listen to kids, don’t listen the teachers who can’t seem to manage an email account, damn the torpedos and full steam ahead.
2009 – Every day is leadership day in which I wrote about the connection between “agency” (meaning true choice) and leadership. Leadership is only meaningful when people have an actual choice to follow or not follow. Leadership is inextricably bound to free will, in the same way democracy is. In schools, this must happen every day, at every level of participation.
2010 – What Leadership Looks Like talks about the challenge we face when trying to describe leadership when it’s so dependent on context and personal style. How can we say “what works” if this is so variable?
I invite you to read the other posts made on the subject of Leadership Day and perhaps write your own. What does leadership look like to you?
Check out the results of the 2013 ‘Have your Say’ survey, the UK’s largest ever survey of young people’s attitudes toward online rights and responsibilities. Over 24,000 young people age 7-19 from across the UK responded to the survey, and a further 90 young people explored these findings in focus groups.
Two infographics below with primary and secondary results – these are large files, so why not make a poster! And ask your students what their top ten are to compare.
Last week many US and Caribbean schools, including some of our own Generation YES schools were closed while people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Our thoughts are with you at this time, and we hope that things get back to normal as quickly as possible.
In times of crisis, young people need facts of course (see Hurricane Sandy resources) and they need reassurance that the world is a good place with people who care. As schools resume, it’s never more important for educators to first be caregivers.
Mr. Rogers told stories about his own mother who would point out the helpful neighbors who appear when bad things happen. Volunteers, firefighters, doctors, utility workers – most people are helpful and generous. Disasters like this provide opportunities to find those people and learn about what they do or to even pitch in yourself.
This is a year-long event with the theme: Climate Change and Disaster Reduction – timely, eh? Events, forums, sharing, activities and much more are planned for the entire year.
Another idea is to create your own digital space for student sharing, perhaps in collaboration with other educators near or far.
Read about Quakestories, a collaborative writing project for students to share their stories after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011.
Kim Coffino, one of the project organizers writes, “Quakestories is a collaborative project connecting several international schools in Japan to collect and share student-created works (writing, multimedia, visual arts) about their experiences during and after the earthquake. First, all student-created works will be posted on a central website. Then, once we have a diverse collection of student work, we will select certain pieces to be published in both a paper and electronic book, with the proceeds of both going towards Tohoko relief (to help those most directly affected by the tsunami).”
Join the fine folks at TakingITGlobal for some exciting professional development on global education and project-based learning. Starting this month, TIGed is offering two accredited e-courses in technology-enabled global education for teachers around the world!
TakingITGlobal is a youth community site with over 140,000 members worldwide. The site tools allow members to create or join global projects, with community and sharing features. To support teachers, they offer TIGed, a community with resources and shared space to plan or learn more about how to support global education.
Starting September 14, 2011: TIGed is offering two e-courses: “Introduction to Global Education” and “Introduction to Global Project-Based Learning.” The first course familiarizes participants with the driving pedagogies behind global education and guides them in exploring practical strategies for globalizing their curricula. The second course builds on the first by exploring how global education can best merge with project-based learning strategies, including how to use online tools to effectively collaborate with international partners. You can learn more about what is covered in each course by visiting the TakingITGlobal Professional Development homepage.
Generation YES is proud to be one of over 80 educational organizations taking part in a new Connect All Schools Initiative, which aims to connect EVERY school in the United States with the world by 2016.
Through the Connect All Schools interactive website, schools share stories using text, photo and video about how they are currently connecting their students to the rest of the world through such activities as student and teacher exchanges, global issues curricula, video-conferences and “Exchanges 2.0,” the use of new media and communications technologies to expand, extend, and deepen international cross-cultural exchanges.
“Despite the importance of global competency and engagement, US teachers are not aware of the many options for introducing their students to global issues, world languages, online international interaction and physical exchanges,” said iEARN-USA Executive Director Ed Gragert, who is spearheading the project. “By reading stories of what schools are already doing, additional teachers across the country can learn about specific examples and work with partner organizations to replicate the successes around the country.”
“Imagine the possibilities for our students to learn WITH the world, instead of just about it,” said Dr. Gragert. “Research has clearly demonstrated that authentic interaction with the world’s students across the curriculum results in enhanced learning, improved test scores and a heightened motivation to learn.”
Be sure to watch this new TED talk by Sugata Mitra, who has done pioneering research with computers, learning and children, especially about learning in parts of the world where, as he says, “good teachers don’t want to go.”
He talks about some of his old concepts, such as the Hole in the Wall project, where computers were placed in walls in the slums of India, and what happened as the children taught themselves and others how to use them. His concept of “Minimally Invasive Education” is based on these experiments, basically giving children fully functional computers and time to explore questions of interest. The results were amazingly consistent — children can achieve basic competency on computers completely on their own, even when the interfaces were in languages they didn’t understand. It calls into question the whole definition of technology literacy and how we traditionally teach it.
There is more about his projects here in my blog post from 2007 which has videos and links from those earlier experiments, and some thoughts on what this means about the role of the teacher.
Now for an update. Mitra has been busy, designing all kinds of environments to explore the range and limits of what children can do with computers. This new TED talk shows these experiments, future plans and how he sees education as a self-organizing system with learning as emergent behavior.
In it, he talks about his current experiments using a “granny cloud” and Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs). Both of these are experiments where students had access to grannies, teachers, and other experts over broadband connections. For example, a “granny” might read aloud to the class, or to an individual student. What might this mean to a classroom where students have no regular teacher, an overburdened teacher, or an undertrained teacher? What might this mean to children who have no classroom at all? Could kiosks be placed in remote village centers?
These experiments, like the One Laptop Per Child project, seek to address the learning needs of the developing world. And we need to meet those needs, to bring education and hope to all people around the world. It is incredibly short-sighted to view education as a competition, where American children “win” only if children in other countries lose. We need people like Sugata Mitra to explore new ways of teaching and learning that can reach everyone on earth, not just those with access to traditional classrooms and good teachers. And as a bonus, in doing so, it provides new insight and raises questions about what conditions and environments really support good learning.
Some might see this research as an attack on teachers, questioning the need for any teacher in any classroom. I do not think this is the case, as I explained in my blog post from 2007 about this concept.
I know this is not fair – Monday morning quarterbacking what someone else said in a keynote. I respect people who keynote, it’s a very difficult job to be entertaining while delivering a coherent, interesting message for a large, diverse audience. I cringe when people criticize, yet here I am doing it.
I did a quick blog post a few days ago about the keynote by Jean-Francois Rischard, the author of High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them. His book identifies urgent global issues and proposes better, alternative methodologies for developing solutions. According to Mr. Rischard, the effectiveness of any solution to a global problem hinges on technological innovation and collective action, including action by students.
But as I was listening, here’s what I wish he was saying.
These global problems must be solved by including people who are traditionally not included in solutions to big problems. These problems cannot be solved by the “usual suspects” – governments, military, big corporations, etc. We must find ways to include people who do not usually get invited to the table – people in small countries, the poor, and youth. The voice and energy of these traditionally disenfranchised people are necessary to solve these problems.
Technology is a solution to bringing these voices out and including people who are not at the table (yet.)
Youth must be at the table for the solutions of the future to be viable. They are the ones who will live there, they are the ones who will solve the problems.
In my mind, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) movement is based on these ideas. Putting the power of the computer directly into the hands of children around the world means that these children have unprecedented access to information and ideas that can change their lives and their communities, and perhaps the world.
And why bring this message to ISTE 2010? Because these educators are where these youth are, and understand technology. Youth are not going to suddenly rise up and do this by themselves – the Facebook group “I hate BP” is not going to solve the oil spill problem.
Educators are like sherpas for the future. By guiding students to develop a global perspective, problem-solving skills and a voice, they are creating capacity for these students to gradually solve larger and more global problems. Students may not start by tackling global warming, but by helping to clean up the local marsh. The skills of collaboration, teamwork, creative problem solving are the same. Having an educator who can guide this process and help students learn these skills as they tackle real problems is crucial.
I think Mr. Rischard missed the point by saying that we should develop curriculum for K-12 that does this. I believe students learn these things by DOING them, starting at a smaller scale, but really doing things that matter, and with guidance from adults who have a real relationship with their students.
I’m reminded of my own daughter who was a theater and choir kid. The TV show Glee is essentially about her. One year the school board had to cut the budget and decided to cut field trips and transportation – but allowed an exception if the students were “participating” in whatever the event was. It meant that the football team kept their busses, but the drama trip to the Shakespeare performance was cancelled because they would be “just watching”.
The drama kids were of course upset and decided to “do something about it.” Luckily, the drama teacher was trusted by the kids, and they shared their frustrations and plans with her. She worked with them – past the plan to TP the board members houses to a plan to go to the school board meeting. She helped them understand that they could frame their argument in an educational context rather than an “it’s not fair the jocks get everything” argument. And she could do this because she was willing to listen — and because she listened to them, they listened to her.
The happy ending to that story is that they got the policy rewritten, and got a lot of praise from the school board for their thoughtful arguments that the creative process needed both participation and expertise. The clincher argument (thought of by one of the students) was that the policy would have allowed a trip to a “Color Me Mine” – one of those do-it-yourself pot painting storefronts, but not a trip to the art museum.
The point is that if we want to solve global problems, we know we need technology, we know we need the students who will solve these problems to come togther, and we know we need educators willing to develop real relationships with youth along the way.
The thousands of educators at ISTE 2010 hold the key to all of these.