Taking maker education to scale – interesting findings from FabLearn Denmark schools

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 fablab@school.dk (schools): 44
  • Teachers engaged: 1,160
  • Students engaged: 12,000

Scaling the Fablab@school initiative towards 2019 (estimates)

  • Number of fablab@school.dk (schools): 61
  • Teachers engaged: 3,050
  • Students engaged: 19,100

In a 2016 survey study with 450 fablab@school.dk 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.

My notes:
* 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.

Girls and STEM – ISTE 2016 presentation

These are the slides from my ISTE 2016 presentation “Girls & STEM: Making it Happen.”

Martinez girls and stem ISTE 2016 (PDF)



Invent To Learn

MakeHers: Engaging Girls and Women in Technology through Making, Creating, and Inventing (Intel infographic)

Power, Access, Status: The Discourse of Race, Gender, and Class in the Maker Movement

Leah Buechley – Gender, Making, and the Maker Movement (video from FabLearn 2013)


National Girls Collaborative Project (links to many others)

National Council of Women and Informational Technology

American Association of University Women

Unesco International Bureau of Education (IBE)  – Multiple resources such as: Strengthening STEM curricula for girls in Africa, Asia and the Pacific10 Facts about Girls and Women in STEM in Asia

WISE (UK) – campaign to promote women in science, technology, and engineering

My posts about gender issues, stereotype threat, and other topics mentioned in this session



Stereotype Threat – Why it matters

Inclusive Makerspaces (article for EdSurge)

What a Girl Wants: Self-direction, technology, and gender

Self-esteem and me (a girl) becoming an engineer


Securing Australia’s Future STEM: Country Comparisons – Australian Council of Learned Academies

Generation STEM:  What girls say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – Girl Scouts of the USA (2012) (Girls 14-17)

Effective STEM Programs for Adolescent Girls: Three Approaches and Many Lessons Learned

Women’s underrepresentation in science: Sociocultural and biological considerations. (2009)

Gresham, Gina. “A study of mathematics anxiety in pre-service teachers.” Early Childhood Education Journal 35.2 (2007): 181-188.

Beilock, Sian L., et al. “Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107.5 (2010): 1860-1863.

Teachers’ Spatial Anxiety Relates to 1st- and 2nd-Graders’ Spatial Learning


National Center for Educational Statistics

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

Make it, wear it, learn it – session slides and links to wearables resources

At ISTE 2016 I presented a new session called “Make It, Wear It, Learn It” about wearable electronics. It’s a combination of what’s out there now that can be done by students today, some far out gee-whiz stuff coming in the next few years, and how to start with wearables for young people.

Wearables are a way to introduce people to engineering, design, and electronics that are personal and fun!

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 3.21.15 PMHere’s the PDF of the slides. Video links are below. ISTE didn’t record this session, but someone said they were periscoping it. If anyone has that, I can post the link here!

There were some powerhouse tweeters in the audience who shared links, photos, and sketchnotes! Thanks to all of you!

Links to videos in the presentation

3D printed fashion at home – Designer Danit Peleg creates fabrics and wearables using easily available 3D printers.

Imogene Heap – Gloves that make music (This is the full video. For the presentation I edited it for time.)

Super-Awesome Sylvia’s Mini-Maker Show (Making a soft circuit toy) – This video is good for showing sewing tips for conductive thread. (Sylvia’s full website)

Made with Code – Maddy Maxey – (This is the full video. I edited it down for time in the presentation.) There are other good videos on this page.

Fashion made from milk fibers – This is the “bonus video” I showed as people were coming into the presentation. Anke Domaske creates fabric from milk proteins, working at the intersection of biochemistry and fashion.

Links to shopping tips and resources for wearables

Resources – InventToLearn.com/resources

Shopping and vendors – InventToLearn.com/stuff

Professional development, workshops, and other links

Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Institute

Sylvia’s website

Professional development opportunities – I can come to your school! Invent To Learn workshops, consulting, and other events are available.

All books available from CMK Press (publisher of Invent To Learn)

Tech support for innovative schools

I had the opportunity to be the closing keynote for CETPA, an organization of K-20 education technology professionals in California. There were a lot of sessions about tech support, networks, and infrastructure, but it was great to see a lot of attention paid to the fact that education is the primary job of schools.

I shared some of the exciting new things happening in schools in California and around the world using technology and tools from the maker movement. But for those people who work hard to keep existing school networks and technology viable in times of zeroed out budgets, it’s not good enough to just toss more technology into classrooms without considering who will support it.

School Leaders say…

  • 75% they don’t have enough IT staff to support their needs effectively
  • 55% can’t maintain their network adequately
  • 63% can’t plan for new technologies
  • 76% have trouble implementing new technologies. (e-School News)

In the article, Forrester Research is quoted as saying that large corporations typically employ one support person for every 50 PCs, at a cost of $1420 per computer, per year.  According to this model, a school district with 1,000 PCs would need a staff of 20 and an annual tech-support budget of $1.4 million.

Yeah, go ahead, laugh! Everyone in a school knows this is ludicrous!

Center for Educational Leadership and Technology says that some larger school districts are approaching a ratio of one IT person for every 1,500 computers or more. I think that may even be low.

This creates an untenable climate in schools where tech support professionals are put in a lose-lose situation. They are responsible for everything that plugs in from the payroll system to the network to the student devices. There is no way to make an impossible situation work without being a constant state of vigilant triage. It’s common – and not unreasonable to develop a circle-the-wagons mentality where blame and finger-pointing is rampant. And the blame goes all around – teachers are slackers, students are hackers, admin is clueless – and comes right back at the tech support team. They become network nazis, the department of no, and worse.

Innovation is unsustainable in this kind of atmosphere, even with the most compelling ideas and plans.

So how can we move forward? This is the “to do” list I proposed.

  • Refocus – Move beyond fixing broken things (Reactive & negative)
  • Support a culture of innovation (Find ways to say yes)
  • Reduce shame (Genius bar)
  • Leverage untapped resources (Students)
  • Reduce cost of failure at all levels (Leadership)

I believe that these goals are not only useful for schools with plans for innovative technology, but can create a synergy that actually is more than the sum of its parts. Collaboration between tech support, students, and teachers, creates a more trusting climate at the same time as leveraging student time and energy. Leadership that supports innovation, even when the road is bumpy, creates trust, which in turn increases responsible behavior.


I believe that every person in a school is an important part of making education better!

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!

The Top Ten Things Maker Educators Know

I recently gave the closing keynote at the Maker Possibilities Day hosted by the Maker Education Organization and sponsored by Intel. It was interesting, because I knew that most of the attendees were already implementing making in various classrooms and informal educational settings. So I couldn’t do my regular keynote where I introduce the Maker Movement to educators and show examples of how technologies like 3D printing, robotics, wearable computing, programming, and more can be used to transform learning. This audience was well beyond that!

So I created a new talk – “The Top Ten Things Maker Educators Know” as a David Letterman style top ten list.

#10 – Just do it.
You know you can’t wait for the perfect space, budget, bandwidth, software, version. Waiting won’t make it better. Try things and then try again. Let your students help you and learn alongside them. We ask our students to take risks, make mistakes, and reach for the stars – we have to do the same.

#9 – Making things is good – computers make good things better.
We know we have to hold ourselves to higher standards and constantly push to make the “making” experiences intellectually challenging. We have to be brave enough to push ourselves to use these tools that didn’t exist when we went to school. In our book we identify three game changers – fabrication, physical computing (including robotics, wearables, e-textiles, and more), and programming.

The game changer is the computer and the computation. Alan Kay said, “the computer is an instrument whose music is ideas.”

The act of making is not good enough to claim it is always educational. I love arts and crafts, but we can’t claim that any making belongs in schools unless we can really prove that the experiences are rich and academically relevant. I didn’t say “traditional” – but…

We can be rigorous. We can add measurement, precision, context, connections to curriculum, history, and anything else you can think of.  My co-author, Gary Stager reminds us that “And then…” is a good stance to take when you think about student projects. If you are making instruments… “and then?”… can you make music? And then, can you write it down so others can play your songs? If you make a car, can you make it go fast, and then… can you make a sensor that measures that speed? And then… Can you prove that your measurements are correct? We can’t be satisfied saying, “oh, kids learn how to solve problems, or they learn to persevere (even if that’s true and wonderful) — it’s not enough. The computer is the key to pushing that envelope, as a design partner and engine of your ideas.

#8 – You can’t hurry love. Or learning.
Maker educators know it takes time. Time to learn. Time to do the job right. Time to take a break and ponder. Time to make mistakes and try try again. We want kids to learn how to dive deep into interesting tasks and then we ring a bell every 42 minutes.

I know this is SO hard. We have schedules. The bell rings, the calendar turns, grades are due. How do you make sure “things get done” – well, maybe we have to relax a little about that. Find ways to give kids the time to step back like a painter who takes the time to look at their unfinished work and think about their next brushstroke. To reduce the stress and chaos of the classroom. To move towards longer, richer projects and away from “if it’s Tuesday it must be exponents” approach to subjects.

Those of you in informal, non-graded programs have more flexibility. But even so, it’s so easy to fall into the quiz-on-Friday trap just because we are used to learning equaling “school”.

I know this is a big ask. For most schools, the bell and bus schedule are written in stone and come down from the heavens…And yes, for some of you, the ones who will be hardest to convince will be the kids — they know the game of school – when is it due? How many pages?

Which brings me to #7….

#7 – Educate everyone.
Of course I mean the students, if you are changing to longer projects tell them. Tell them why. They will whine and howl and the parents will come in and question your qualifications – or sanity … but – you need to be able to articulate why learning isn’t about timed multiplication tests or spelling bees. That’s what days like this are for – to help you concretize what you believe about learning. That you aren’t the only teacher trying to do this. To listen to someone else’s elevator pitch for their makerspace dream. Look around at your new support system.

Stay in touch – hashtag MAKERED

Days like this are to remind you that we DO know a lot about how people learn. (not that you can tell from a lot of what we do in schools)

We KNOW that knowledge is a consequence of experience. That working with your head, heart, and hands cements that knowledge better than memorizing. That being engaged in meaningful work is the ONLY way that people learn.

We wrote several chapters in our book about “making the case” for making in the classroom – with research, stories, resources. Some of you have told me today that our book helped you. I’m thankful and immensely gratified when I hear this.

But you are the way it’s going to happen. You have to constantly reach out to parents, your students, your colleagues, your administrators and leadership teams, your funders, your neighbors, the guy on the bus talking about “these kids today…”. You can educate everyone about what you see and how this changes kids lives. You can share your stories. How rich learning opportunities are important for ALL kids, and that they need them EVERY day, not “after the tests” or “after they master the basics”.

If public education means anything, it’s a way to democratize access to expertise and experience. Poor kids needs MORE experiences, MORE connections to the real world, MORE opportunities to touch the future with amazing tools like 3D printers. Instead we are told that “those kids” need to master basics and learn how to behave before they get “enrichment”. And whose kids are “those kids” – yeah, we know which ones they are. Not the kids of the politicians making these speeches. They need to be educated too.

And yes, this is a tough job.. educating the whole world, maybe impossible. But we have to do it anyway.

#6 – STEM for all.
But while we educate, we have to be careful about jumping on the bandwagon of STEM jobs. Sure there are kids who will be scientists, mathematicians, programmers, or engineers, but that’s not the reason to teach STEM in an engaging and exciting way. It’s good – but it’s not good enough to just pluck out another few kids who might get that plum STEM job.

No, I believe that we owe it to ALL kids to construct experiences that help them see science as a detective story, engineering as a way to solve their own problems or the world’s problems, and math as a way to make sense of the world. With the tools and technology we have today we don’t have to just teach “about” these things, students can BE mathematicians, BE historians, BE engineers and BE software developers. This can happen now if we tackle making STEM subjects interesting and accessible – not just to fill some economic balance sheet, or crush other countries – but as a human right. That our democracy and the future of the world depends on an informed, educated community –every adult, every child.

So yeah, I get it. It’s a buzzword and there is funding for STEM. Get the money! But let’s make sure that what we create is fundamentally aimed at reaching every child – not just the usual suspects, not just a lucky few. That might be difficult – to change people’s minds that only SOME kids need to know science, only SOME kids need to learn programming. Maybe even impossible – I know, but we have to do it anyway. 

#5 – Balance. all kinds – Gender, problem solving styles, artistic interest, ages.
I’m a girl, I’m an engineer – do I care about girls in STEM? Of course I do. I worry that courses and careers are more difficult for females for a wide variety of reasons. We know them – the culture, tradition, economics…Just yesterday I saw ANOTHER study about how teachers respond to boys questions with longer answers than girls. I worry that research about the effects of stereotype threat aren’t taken seriously. That maker spaces often look like places where girls WONT be welcome. And yes, the Maker Movement has more than its share of bro-grammer testosterone.

But then again, when I look around Maker Faires I see lots to cheer for. I see heroes of Maker Movement of all ages, from veteran wood workers to Super-awesome Sylvia, a 12 year old girl – being celebrated and respected. I see so much art and whimsy incorporated into techie projects. I see respect for different points of view, for different ways to see the world, different ways to solve problems.

But in school, we only respect one way – the analytical, linear problem solving approach. Seymour Papert, father of educational technology said there are two ways to solve problems: Analytical and bricolage. Bricolage is a French word meaning tinkering. But it also has a connection to the Maker Movement – in French, it has a connotation of reuse and artistry in your tinkering.

Analytical styles have long been seen as more “academic” – the linear, step-by-step approach is taught and reinforced in school, especially in higher grades. We push abstractions on students at younger and younger ages and call it rigor. And yet, there is another way. Bricolage, or tinkering is often how real science happens. I know as an engineer there were many more times we tinkered our way to success rather than planned it.

Real scientists make mistakes, ponder, have a cup of tea, argue with each other, and sometimes have happy accidents.  Bricolage is the way designers work as well, the real process of design, and I believe a natural progression from the play of childhood to a more reasoned and directed approach, but still a non-linear and iterative way to solve problems.

Sherry Turkle showed in her groundbreaking work that these two styles are associated with gender. That bricolage – an intuitive, creative problem-solving style, what she called “soft mastery” is often discounted as being immature or naïve. You can see that these adjectives appear to describe a more “feminine” style.

Of course I’m not saying that all boys solve problems one way, and all girls the other – most people use a combination of styles.

We used to literally tie left-handed kids hands behind their backs and force them to write with their right hands. We know now, that that causes serious learning problems, stuttering, life-long consequences.

I think we are still figuratively tying students hands behind their backs by insisting they all solve problems in preferred “analytical” ways, ignoring not only the fact that we are hurting them, but also that analytical isn’t even the way real designers and engineers work.

When we discount people’s problem solving styles we communicate to them that they aren’t “smart” – and millions of people are being convinced every day that they aren’t smart. That their ideas aren’t welcome. It’s not true, and it’s a shame and a waste.

We have to find ways to honor all problem-solving styles, to allow people to master knowledge in their own way. This is harder than everyone doing problem 12 on page 47 on the same day at the same time. Teaching in a way that supports multiple learning paths and styles is harder to do, maybe impossible to scale – and yet we have to do it anyway.

# 4 – This doesn’t just happen.
People say things about technology like, Oh the kids are so smart they will figure this stuff out by themselves. Old fuddy duddies should just step aside… Or – we’ll just let the kids mess around and discover things.

Personally, I never use the term “discovery learning” it’s too easy to mock. “oh the kids will wander barefoot through the field with flowers in their uncombed hair and lo and behold — the Pythagorean Theorem! oh please. That’s not going to happen. It’s up to caring, trained people who are experts in their subjects AND in the art of teaching who can create situations where running into big ideas, powerful ideas is inevitable. Deliberately prepared, yet open learning experiences that are rich and valuable. This doesn’t just happen. It takes skill, passion, and sometimes years of experience working with children.

It’s an art to listen for that teachable moment and then know what to do next, ask the question that unlocks a door that THEY can walk through, offer the right book or the right tool, or just leave them alone sometimes. It’s an art to gather the right materials, ones that have a low threshold and a high ceiling, and challenge kids to push past their comfort zones. Teachers and leaders are the key to making education better and the key to incorporating the power of the Maker Movement, of infusing the power of technology into our schools and learning spaces.

#3 – Engaged and empowered is an outcome of doing meaningful work.
People say technology is so engaging to kids. I think they get it wrong. Maker educators know there is more to it than bells and whistles.

Kids are engaged by doing important work – work that is challenging in a way they find interesting. Mastering something difficult and important in the eyes of the world, like technology is engaging. If you can then share your expertise, so much the better.

This is a cycle of citizenship – of belonging to a community that gives you value and values you. We often talk about “digital citizenship” when we really just mean telling the kids the rules and how they will be punished if they mess up. But a learning community is a two-way street.

When you give someone responsibility, and they step up, they build trust in themselves and trust in their ability to do the next difficult thing. They engage in learning. They become empowered because they did something powerful. You can’t teach empowerment or do empowerment TO kids. It’s an outcome of doing meaningful work – meaningful to yourself and to others.

And by the way, you can’t have empowered students without empowered teachers. Script reading robot teachers will not empower students. We have to fight against the devaluation of teachers, and the devaluation of kids as cogs in some corporate education machine. We can do this, we can change minds, even if it’s hard -even if it seems impossible. We just have to do it anyway. 

#2 – Making is about making sense of the world not making stuff.
Maker educators know that making isn’t about a shopping list or a special room, it’s about allowing people to reach their full potential as makers of meaning. Humans naturally seek meaning in their lives. Every kid wants to change the world – we can give them the tools and the maker “get it done” ethos that makes it possible.

We know the world is full of big problems that need solving. Our kids need to believe they can change the world. Not in magical superhero ways, but ways that are real. We need them to believe they can solve problems – and even when it seems impossible – we need them to do it anyway.

#1 – You (and your kids) are the right people.
You knew this was coming. But…. maybe you doubt that you are the right person to show others the way forward. That someone else should speak up, someone else should lead the way.

There is a problem-solving technique called “open-space technology” that has a motto that I love. It’s “the people in the room are the right people.” I think it applies to everything. Every classroom, every learning space has the right kids to tackle making things, important things, things that no one has ever thought of before. Even when those kids are disempowered and disengaged. Even when no one expects anything from them. They still are the right kids. Amazing kids, extraordinary kids. You’ve seen them, you know them.

And we have the power, the people in this room, to change education, to change the way we value children in this society. To respect and honor EVERY child’s potential to be a maker of meaning, and a maker of a better world.

And yes, we know it’s a tough job, and yes, it may seem impossible, but we are the right people … so we have to do it anyway.