On the side of kids

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 doing by 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.”

Read the whole article – there’s more!

Going to ISTE in San Antonio! See you there.

I’m excited to have several accepted sessions at ISTE, the International Society of Technology in Education.  It will be in San Antonio June 25-28, 2017. Hope to see many old friends and new!

Make It, Wear It, Learn It

  • Monday, June 26, 10:30–11:30 am CDT (Central Daylight Time)
  • Building/Room: (specific location available in May)

Before You Build a Makerspace: Four Aspects You Must Consider

  • Wednesday, June 28, 9:00–10:00 am CDT (Central Daylight Time)
  • Building/Room: (specific location available in May)

Everybody Wins When Everybody Codes  – with Jane Krauss

  • Monday, June 26, 9:00–10:00 am CDT (Central Daylight Time)
  • Building/Room: (specific location available in May)

Workshops – Melbourne 2016 – Invent to Learn, Wearables, STEM

Join us in Melbourne this week! Space still available – Register today!

Monday 22nd August, 2016
Invent to learn with Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager
Join colleagues for a day of hard fun and problem solving — where computing meets tinkering and design.

Tuesday 23rd August, 2016
Girls and STEM / Wearable Technology with Sylvia Martinez
Wearables and Soft-Circuits for STEM Education – Supporting Inclusion and Equity with Hands-on Maker Technology

Thursday 24th August, 2016
Reinventing Maths with Gary Stager
This workshop moves beyond the goal of making math instruction engaging for children by providing educators with authentic mathematical thinking experiences.

Information overload?

It always bothers me when people talk about how information is overloading children today. It just seems like adults projecting their own anxiety onto children. Children have no idea that there is “more” information now, their context is the present. They aren’t overloaded any more than the previous generation was overloaded the first time they walked into a library. No one ran out screaming “I’ll never read them all!!!”

That’s not to say that children don’t need guidance. But let’s leave our adult neuroses at the door when teaching children about the riches of the Internet.

Amazing! Life, art, and making.

This was from a panel discussion at the Crossroads 2016 conference on the culture of making. Brooke Toczylowski drew the scene and it’s amazing!

The best professional development for teachers

It’s always good practice to offer professional development for K-12 teachers as part of any new program or initiative. “Making” in the classroom is no different. Hundreds of research studies offer guidelines and tips, yet it seems that many programs, even if they follow guidelines, do not adequately prepare teachers to change their actual practice in the classroom.

Some of these recommendations are daunting for providers of professional development. Good professional development should be:

  • Long term  (But  often has no follow up planned.)
  • Focused equally on content, pedagogy, and new skills (Usually  within too short a time period.)
  • Continued collaboratively and in the classroom (Even if the school decides to only send one teacher to a workshop and offers no collaboration time once back at school.)
  • Transformative, giving teachers new ideas and ways to change their classroom practice (Even when their leaders are telling them not to change anything, or even directly contradicting the new ideas once the teachers return.)

The most frustrating part of outreach to K-12 teachers is not that the teachers are unwilling or unable to learn new things; it’s just the opposite. The ultimate frustration is when K-12 teachers are inspired and willing to go back to their classrooms and work for change, only to have those bright lights quickly extinguished by the crushing reality of the status quo.

In our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, and in thousands of hands-on workshops with K-12 educators, Gary Stager and I work with one primary stance directed at classroom change. This is to ask educators to shift agency of classroom tasks to the learner whenever possible. Gary Stager suggests making your teaching mantra, “Less Us, More Them”.

When you make your teaching mantra, “Less Us, More Them,” you are channeling Piaget who says that it is not the role of the teacher to correct a student from the outside, but to create conditions in which the student corrects him or herself from the inside.

Anytime you feel it necessary to intervene in an educational transaction, take a deep breath and ask, “Is there some way I can do less and grant more authority, responsibility, or agency to the learner?”

For providers of professional development, this not only applies to young students, but also to K-12 teachers who are learning new content or pedagogical practices. When teachers are faced with new challenges, it is tempting to show them how to do everything, to hand them fully formed curriculum with pre-made handouts and step-by-step checklists of what they should do in their classrooms. Resist this urge. Doing so only undermines teacher confidence that they can make the right choices when faced with the real-time improvisation needed to teach in today’s classrooms.

Even when teachers express frustration that you are not giving them adequate information, try to support them as THEY find answers to THEIR questions, even if they experience frustration along the way. This is not to say that you should deliberately frustrate teachers or hide information. Answering questions with “just enough” information, and helping them find out how to find their own answers helps them develop the independence they will need if there is any chance that they can lead students in a similar quest. Teachers need to develop confidence and an attitude that “I may not know but we can find out together” and model that for students. This may be difficult for teachers who feel that they need to be the fount of all knowledge. But in today’s modern age when simple answers are just a Google away, teachers must help students learn how to find their own answers to questions both simple and complex.

In our Invent To Learn workshops, we always start with hands-on activities, because that creates the touchstone and the vocabulary for follow-up work on how this can be implemented in the classroom.

  • How is it that teachers who say, “I don’t understand electronics” can build a working circuit or a wearable light up bracelet with no instruction, and then be able to explain it to others?
  • What changes when during a workshop debrief, a table of six teachers find they used 12 different methods to solve their problems and answer their questions? How can they justify not allowing students to have the same widespread access to knowledge and expertise?
  • How can teachers justify expecting that their students all do exactly the same project when they started out making a doorbell that sends a text message, but ended up making a robot that plays a song? And learned a lot along the way?

These experiences serve to open teachers minds to assumptions they have been making about the projects their own students do and the scaffolding needed to support students.

These conclusions cannot be presented to teachers, they need to live and experience them first hand, and translate them to their own classrooms and curriculum. Because when they go back to their classrooms, they will need to carry this torch for themselves, and will need to feel agency over their own actions.

Professional development is not what we “do” to teachers, it’s what they formulate for themselves as they see themselves as practitioners who are able to do new things, learn new things, and be in charge of their own learning. This is the only way to empower people, both teachers and students.

For the past ten years, Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Institute  has been leading the way in professional development that creates maximum impact and agency for teachers. This July 7-12 in Manchester, New Hampshire, is a chance for you to experience this kind of revolutionary professional development! Don’t miss out.

Projects from CMK 2015


STEAM – People always add esthetic elements to projects when they have time, ownership, and interesting materials to work with.

working on a projectCan you tell who the expert is?

light up dressMaking fashion that lights up