Back to school, back to making!

back to schoolYou 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!

Before you “do a makerspace” – four considerations

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

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

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

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

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

Place

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

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

Culture

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

Process

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

Beliefs about teaching and learning

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

Where are we? Is it too late for schools to change?

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:

uh oh curve.001.jpeg.001

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.

uh oh curve 2.png.001

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.

uh oh curve3.png.001

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?

Questions, questions…

Compliance is not perseverance (the grit narrative)

Working hard on something you don’t care about or have a say in is not perseverance or “grit,” it’s compliance.

Thanks to Krissy Venosdale for the cool art! Check out her website for more maker goodies.

I said this last year at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2015. The idea that kids learn to persevere through frustration when they work on things they care about is a central tenet of the classroom maker movement. We talk about “mouth up vs. mouth down” frustration in our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. The former is what Seymour Papert called “hard fun,” while the later is… well… just frustrating. There is no educational purpose to letting a student try to deal with insurmountable problems.

Maria Montessori said, “”Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” She didn’t say that failure is the goal. It’s a big difference that I’ve discussed in other posts.

The conversation has been complicated by the word “grit” becoming the word of the day with the “if we just do x, all will be right with education” crowd. Ira Socol has written brilliantly about how this fascination with grit is grounded in shaky research and barely hidden racism. (Grit and History and Summarizing Grit: The Abundance Narratives)

So it may be just semantics, but words matter, especially if they have been co-opted and become code words for blaming children for not pulling themselves up by their own… opps, they don’t have boots.

Words that work just as well: perseverance, resilience, stubbornness, focus, attention to detail, mindfulness, or craftsmanship. I’m sure there are more.

You can’t teach any of these in isolation. I cringe at the thought of cheerleading kids with “you can do anything” rallies and then marching them back to their worksheets.

The key difference is agency. When the work is yours, it matters more. When you care about what you are making, your perspective changes. Who has ownership? Whose voice is the loudest? By the way, it’s not necessarily true that these attributes are always pleasant or easy to deal with. Stubbornness or a willingness to stand your ground in the face of authority are also indications of resilience. Agency isn’t always polite.

When you see young people as agents of change, rather than objects to be changed, it shifts perspective in a subtle way. Unfortunately, subtle messages tend to get lost in translation.

I’m continually amazed by how hard most students work on things they don’t really have a stake or a say in. Imagine if that work was being done on projects that they cared about and believed in. Every kid wants to be a super-hero, and we have the capacity to empower students to change the world, using their brains, passion, and real world challenges. The promise of the maker movement is not just about the cool tools, but that these tools can supercharge that empowerment.

The “grit” narrative will pass when some other book becomes a best-seller. But the narrative that young people should be active agents in their own learning (in partnership with caring adults) will hopefully outlast them all.

Update (1/29/16): Martin Levins from the The Armidale School in Australia posted a terrific comment on Facebook reminding us that sometimes stopping a project is the best path. Not all projects have a perfect storybook ending, and that’s real life too. Perseverance shouldn’t mean grinding out a project that should have been rethought and reworked.

Putting Away the Books to Learn

Bright.com (the education section of Medium.com)  has published an article called Putting Away the Books to Learn by Jackie Ashton.

It starts with the question: “The “maker” movement has swept across schools in California and beyond. Can it fundamentally change K-12 education?”

The article profiles several schools involved in “making” and quotes some folks, including me, about how “making” has the potential to change education. Most of my interview ended up on the cutting room floor, unfortunately. But that’s the way the media cookie crumbles, as they say!

It’s an interesting take on “making” and the article struggles a bit, I think, to situate it in a learning context. Not that I’m surprised or criticizing. It’s the heart of the difficulty of advocating for “maker education” – the examples start to sound like you are cheerleading for any techy type thing that kids put their hands on, whether it’s thoughtful, challenging, academic or not.

Even the title “Putting Away the Books to Learn” is a misinterpretation of the kind of classroom experience I advocate for. In a maker-enabled learning space, books and reference materials (both online and physical) should be one of the most important tools available to students.

For example, at our summer institute, Constructing Modern Knowledge, we bring cases of books to build a library for participants. We believe that this highly-curated library is one of the most important aspects of creating a model maker learning experience. Books can inspire and inform, or sometimes just provide a coffee-break for a tired brain.

Maker education is not an either/or choice between old-fashioned and new-fangled stuff. It’s grounded (hopefully) in ideas about the ways learning really happens inside the learner’s head. Beyond that, there are definitely some technologies that can enhance the quest to teach students about the real world, but to me, the “stuff” should take a backseat to the learning.

  • Can you do “maker” without a 3D printer? Yes
  • Can you do things with a 3D printer that give students access to ideas otherwise nearly impossible? Yes

Both of these can be true, and that may seem confusing. But I think the possibilities inherent in all these seemingly contradictory paths are worth exploring. There is no one model of maker education that is going to work for every learning space and every learner. That should be seen as freedom to be nurtured, not a deficiency.

Back to School 2012 – Start your “year of empowerment” now!

Start the year off with hands on
Think you need to wait for kids to settle down and learn the basics before you let them do projects and hands-on work? Not according to this expert teacher.

What tech vision will you share?
What message does your Acceptable Use Policy send when it goes home with students for them and their parents to sign? This year, change overly complex, negative language to language that celebrates the potential of technology – and students.

Games for collaboration and teamwork
Want to create a more collaborative, constructivist classroom? Instead of traditional icebreakers, try these games that encourage collaboration and teamwork.

What do students want from teachers?
Listen to what students say they really want from teachers. And no, it’s not “more recess.”

Student technology leadership teams for laptop schools
Are you getting more devices this year? Laptops, iPads, iTouches, netbooks or going 1:1? Do you have enough tech support? Enough support for teachers using new technology? Enough support for students? No? Well then learn how students can be a great resource in laptop schools to ease the burden on overworked teachers and IT staff – and mentor other students. Genius bar, anyone?

Ten commandments of tech support
Ten ideas for making technology support more learner-centered and less network-centered.

8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab
Last but by far not least, if you are looking for some inspiration to post on your wall, here are 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab. These eight ideas give actionable advice to create opportunities for deep learning for all. (Also in Spanish)

Happy back to school!

Sylvia

Games in Education Resources

A lot of people know that in a previous career I was a video game designer. That means that I get asked all the time about educational games. So here’s a wiki I’ve just created with some of the resources about that topic, including a 20 min presentation. I think that there is a lot of hype about games in education, and it’s important not to just take it so literally.

My hope is that educators take the time to really explore what games can offer in the classroom – not because games are going to “save” or “revolutionize” education, but that they offer a metaphor of what learner-centered education can be.

By learning more about games, educators can decide for themselves if a particular game is something they want to introduce into their classroom because it supports their beliefs about learning, not because it’s all the rage. Or, they can learn how games carefully balance frustration with success to create engaging challenges.

Finally, I always say that the best way to bring games into the classroom is to let students design their own games. It puts the agency even further into the learner camp. Playing games is fun, but you are always playing by someone else’s rules. Making your own game means that you are in charge, and that’s where real learning can happen.

Games in Education Resources

Sylvia

STEM education – good news, bad news

Hurray! There are good jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) related fields! STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future (US Department of Commerce)

Good news! We know how to interest kids in STEM! Engaging Students’ Interest, Not Just Offering Advanced Classes, Best Promotes Interest in STEM Careers It’s about high interest, engaging classes starting in early years. It’s not just about offering more AP and advanced classes in high school.

Bad news! We are cutting science in early grades Elementary Teachers Getting Less Time for Science. And we are not connecting with students’ actual interests in science nor are we teaching it in the way students say works best for them (hands-on) The disconnect in science education.

Opps!

Sylvia

Can students record a lecture?

Bob Sprankle writes a very interesting post on the Tech+Learning blog this month – Who has the Right? where he asks a lot of very good questions and offers some advice about the use of a LiveScribe pen to record audio from the classroom while taking notes.

But there are still lots of questions about this. It’s really more than just about this one technology – you can ponder about any recording device in the classroom from video cameras and phones to many laptops that have this capability.

Some questions this brings up:

  • Should a teacher be asked before recording? Does the law require consent, or merely notification?
  • What if the student has special needs for recording and playing back? Does it matter if there is an IEP in place or not?
  • Does a teacher have to have a “valid” reason to say no? If they simply don’t like the idea, does this negate the student’s right to an accessible education? A teacher couldn’t take a student’s glasses away just because they don’t like them.
  • Do wiretapping laws apply?
  • What if other students in the class are recorded? Is that fair/legal? Might it stop open classroom discussion?
  • If a student does record a lecture, does anyone (administrators, parents, etc.) have the right to ask for that recording?
  • Are there restrictions on what the student can do with the recording, such as post it online or give it to other students?
  • Are there any restrictions for teachers recording their own class? Do they need student/parent/school permission? Who owns that recording and what can it be used for?
  • Can a teacher record their own lecture and put it online? Can they sell it?

Common courtesy and knowing the law may not be enough to answer these questions!

Sylvia

New! Join the ‘Connect All Schools’ movement

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.

Not seeing the video?
Direct link to YouTube video introduction to “Connect All Schools”

“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.”

For more information on this exciting initiative or to share your story, please visit: www.connectallschools.org

Sylvia