I’m heading out for a string of presentations and workshops – hope to see old friends and new!
ICE 2018 – Feb 26 (Chicago) I’m part of an “All-Star” lineup of presenters who are participating in the Illinois Computing Educators conference. Instead of one keynote they are bringing back keynotes from previous years to do panels and featured presentations. It’s a bit embarrassing to call yourself an “All-Star” but that’s their term, not mine! Check out the whole list and join us!
Then I’m flying straight to Italy where Gary Stager and I will keynote a School Innovation conference in Modena and lead a workshop in Bologna on March 2 & 3. Then we hit the road (by train) for lectures at Universities in Padua, Vicenza, Venice, and Pistoia. Finally a roundtable at the U.S. Embassy in Rome with an innovation policy advocacy working group.
Oh, and in between I’m flying to Valencia, Spain to keynote a conference there! INTED 2018 will be March 5-7 and I’ll be keynoting on March 5.
Learning is an engagement of the mind that changes the mind.
One of the biggest issues I have with many descriptions of “making” in education is that it’s about students just being creative with tools or materials. I strongly disagree. Making is not just the simple act of you being the difference between raw materials and finished product, as in “I made dinner” or even “I made a robot.” I don’t think we always need to ascribe learning to the act of making — but the act of making allows the maker, and maybe an outsider (a teacher, perhaps) to have a window into the thinking of the maker.
So, do you always need a teacher for learning to happen? No. Some people are good at thinking about their own process and learning from that (“Wow, that butter made the sauce so much better.” “Next time, I’ll test the circuit before I solder.”) and some people are less likely to do that. But if I watch you cook, I will see certain things – how you organize your ingredients, how you react when you make a mistake, how you deal with uncertainty — and that is what teaching is about. A teacher who is a careful observer can see these kinds of signs, and then challenge the learner with harder recipes, a question to make them think, more interesting ingredients, or a few tips — all with an eye towards helping the other person learn and grow.
Technology like Arduinos and 3D printers have not become intertwined with the maker movement in education simply because they are new, but because they are some of the most interesting ingredients out there. Many of these “maker materials” rely on computational technology, which supports design in ways not possible otherwise. The command “Save As..” is possibly the most important design tool ever invented. Saving your design file or code means you can “do again” without “doing over,” supporting the iterative process and encouraging increasingly complex designs.
Complex technology, especially computational technology also allows educators to answer the question, “Isn’t this just arts and crafts?” And of course after defending arts and crafts – we can say that computational technology allows these same mindful habits to connect with the powerful ideas of the modern world that we hope children learn. Design and making are not just important for the A in STEAM, they are essential, but here’s a bigger idea, they are also essential for the T & E — and for them all to come together.
There is simply no technology without design; the definition of the word is literally “things in the designed world.” Making is a way to realize the “logo” part of the word – from the Greek word (logos) that means “word” but specifically words that express the order and reason of the universe. To Greek philosophers, a word was more than a sound or a mark, it was the embodiment of an idea — an idea made real. And yes, the Logo programming language owns this derivation as well.
The power of using computational technology in education is that the versatility and transparent complexity allows learners to make their ideas real, to make sense of the world, and to see their own capacity grow. This visible process also allows teachers to support and scaffold learners on their journey.
Learning by making happens only when the making changes the maker.
Seen the headlines? 3D printing is coming, faster cheaper, easier to manage… but is it better?
Anyone who is thinking about “making in education” has likely bought (or at least thought about) a 3D printer for their makerspace or classroom. In our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, fabrication is one of the three “game changer” technologies that have the most potential for schools. But as anyone who has tried 3D printing knows, it’s not a mature technology by any means, and takes work to integrate it into rich design experiences for young people. At this point in time, most classroom focused 3D printers are too slow and too glitchy to really serve a lot of students doing iterative design. There is no perfect software solution, and software is at the core of the design process. Of course, every day they get cheaper, more reliable, and these problems will decrease.
So the recent announcement by Mattel of a reboot of the 1960’s toy Thingmaker sounds too good to be true. After all, if Mattel believes this is reliable enough to sell at Toys R Us, it must solve all these issues, right?
Is this “the answer”? It depends what question you ask. Do you like toys? Do you need more plastic stuff? Then the answer is yes. Do you want kids to engage in designing, mathematical thinking, and problem solving? Then the answer is no.
And hey, if my kids were still little I would totally buy this. And play with it myself. It’s a reboot of literally my favorite toy when I was a kid. I still have some of the dragons somewhere.
But – take a close look at what you get.
It’s not going to be an open design in hardware or software. There will be pre-designed parts you can drag and drop to make creatures, robots, etc. Pick Arm A and Body B and in several hours you can print and assemble your own little monster, or other Mattel branded stuff. It’s not going to be “maker” in the sense of “if you can’t open it you don’t own it.” For those people who find that important, this is a mockery, for those who just want to reliably make plastic toys, it’s perfect.
Because from a stability and reliability standpoint, the whole “open” concept is deadly. What if you design something that can’t actually be printed in real life? A learning opportunity, you say? For Mattel, that’s a design that cannot be allowed. Locking down the design process into a drag and drop app makes it reliable. It’s not a BAD app, or a BAD corporate decision, it is what it is.
Once they sterilize the design side, and use proprietary software all the way from design to the hot end, then it’s just a hardware problem that remains. No worries about strange g-code or updates to open source code.
On the hardware side, Mattel is good at making cheap, reliable hardware. They will require their filament (you can see it in the photo above), so that helps them maintain consistency as well.
So is it a bad thing for schools to consider? No. Depends how much money you have for toys. Will kids like it? Of course. Will some enterprising hacker figure out how to hack into it? Highly likely.
But think of the parallels. Do kids like EZ Bake Ovens? of course. Can you make edible stuff? Yes. Do some people hack them to turn out gourmet meals? No doubt. So would you turn your culinary arts program (if you are lucky enough to have one) over to all EZ Bake Ovens?
Let’s also differentiate between parents getting these for kids, and schools buying them and pretending it’s a STEM initiative. Schools buying these should consider the whole picture of the design cycle, not just the plastic parts that spit out at the end.
Introduce the real world and change the conversation.
In a perfect world, all people would have equal opportunity to achieve their professional goals. But the reality is not perfect for women in the workforce.
In many science, technology, engineering and math fields, especially in engineering and programming, women are underrepresented: While they represent half of all college-educated workers in the U.S., they made up just 28 percent of science and engineering workers in 2010 — an increase from 21 percent in 1993, according to the National Science Board’s 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators report.
Trace back down the pipeline to STEM in K–12 and the facts don’t get any cheerier: Girls are called on less often by teachers, are seen as not understanding math (even when they get better grades and test scores than boys) and are overlooked for slots in STEM academies and special programs. They may stop seeing themselves as being good at science and math as they move into middle school, where students begin to develop the skills they need for STEM majors and careers.
Girls do have one interesting advantage — they are typically better at a wider range of things than are boys. Girls who get good grades in math and science tend to get good grades in other subjects too, while boys tend to get good grades in only one area. For boys, that focus may translate into a stronger push toward a career in STEM; if you have fewer choices, you concentrate on making them count.
So when we complain that there is a “leaky pipeline” in K–12 education for girls in STEM courses, we should acknowledge that it isn’t necessarily a matter of discrimination or systemic bias. Girls are choosing not to major in STEM subjects for the very sensible reason that they have more options.
But this “choice” is also influenced by the prospect of discrimination down the line.
‘Why would you choose to go into a field that doesn’t want you?’
In a study by Girl Scouts of the USA (“Generation STEM”), 57 percent of all girls say that “if they went into a STEM career, they’d have to work harder than a man just to be taken seriously.” And African-American and Hispanic girls are more aware of this than Caucasian girls. (Also from “Generation STEM”: “Half of African American girls (compared to 38 percent of Caucasian girls) agree with the statement: ‘Because I am female, I would NOT be treated equally by the men I studied/worked with if I pursued a career in STEM.’ ”)
Why would you choose to go into a field that doesn’t want you? Painting a false happy-talk picture of “you can be anything you want to be” is simply wishful thinking at best, and lying at worst. The leaky pipeline leads into a leaky bucket that any sane person might choose to avoid.
Of course, we want to fix this — not just give up. That first requires tackling how we talk, then integrating technology and engineering in the appropriate ways at the earliest grade levels possible.
Many schools have found success in helping more girls through STEM courses. We know what works: role models, mentors, encouragement and special opportunities. But schools can do more to make STEM courses more accessible for all students.
Introduce real-world topics, real research, real projects, real tools and tangible technology to STEM subjects. That attracts not only girls but any students who are uninterested in dry textbook science.
Change the Curriculum to Expand Experience
Girls say that science is interesting because it helps people and makes the world a better place. Feed that passion by giving students opportunities to do science that matters, not just study about science.
Finding ways to incorporate conductive paint and e-textiles into an electronics lesson is not pandering to girls but expanding the onboarding experience for STEM to more students across the board.
The facts about gender discrimination are depressing, but that isn’t a reason to hide them from young people. They deserve to know the truth (at the appropriate level). Because guess who can fix it? They can. Girls and boys are our only hope if we’re to change the landscape of opportunity, and we have to give them the facts and enlist them in the effort.
These problems won’t be fixed by pumping more water into a leaky bucket; they can only be solved when people clearly identify the issues and work together to solve them.
While changing deeply embedded culture and established curriculum may seem like an impossible challenge, it’s something that simply has to be done.
Here’s what you can do:
Be mindful of your own behavior and try to open learning invitations to all students. In particular, talk with young people about stereotypes and how to overcome them.
Address issues of discrimination in your own settings, quickly and fairly. What you do as the adult in the classroom, and in the hallway, gym, faculty lounge and office, matters.
Look for opportunities to bring stories of discrimination (at appropriate levels) to students to discuss. What do they think?
Offer experiences in STEM courses that build on student interests and culture. Find ways to use STEM to solve real problems that young people care about.
Don’t talk only to girls about these issues. It’s not a “girls’ problem.” Enlist boys and men in making changes. Use resources like “Ways to Increase Male Advocacy in Gender Diversity Efforts” from the National Council on Women & Information Technology and adapt for your own setting.
The New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) has just released a set of apps called Noticing Tools.
The suite of five apps gives educators and parents a new option for inspiring kids to want to learn math and science by using technology as a tool for creativity and collaborative exploration on topics ranging from ratios and proportion to fractions, physics, angular momentum, surface area and volume.
I’m honored to have an article included in Educating Modern Learner’s compilation of their Best of 2014 articles. Even better, it’s available for free as a lovely e-book!
Educating Modern Learners is a new website created to help every school leader become better informed to make better, more relevant decisions for the children they serve in this new, modern world of learning.
My article, What a Girl Wants, is included in this e-book, along with 13 other terrific essays and analysis of current education practice and policy.
The International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) conference is right around the corner – June 28 – July 1, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the biggest US-based event for K-12 educational technology, and people from around the world will be there to see the latest stuff and to hear the newest ideas for technology and computers in education.
This year there is a big focus on “making” in the classroom – which I’m glad to be a part of! Last year it felt pretty lonely to be one of the only speakers talking about it. But this year, there are numerous events and sessions about making, maker education, and many hands-on and PBL sessions as well.
I’ve created a “favorite list” of some of the conference sessions and Maker “Playgrounds” happening at ISTE. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to share it from their site, but here they are with just an old fashioned copy/paste! Even then, the links don’t work and even if I was ambitious enough (I’m not) to try to relink them, the sessions are in popup boxes so they don’t have unique links. A missed opportunity, I think, ISTE. As Oprah knows, favorites are meant to be shared! Here is a link to the ISTE program search for you do-it-yourselfers.
Friday, June 27
Hack Education (I’ll be here!)
Friday, June 27, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Mobile Mega Share (I’ll be here!)
Friday, June 27, 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
The next revolution in education will be made, not televised.
Here is what happens when you ask two Tech & Learning advisors to trade notes on one of the fastest-moving phenomena in education technology. Sylvia Martinez (SM) recently co-authored InventTo Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Dr. Gary A. Carnow (GC) is Chief Propellerhead of Prolific Thinkers and the former CTO of Pasadena Unified School District. He is also the co-author of multiple edtech books. Both are excited about the Maker Movement. Read why you should be, too:
GC: I shudder when I hear that my local school is now reinventing itself as a STEM or STEAM school. STEM or STEAM is an interesting label, but it limits what is happening across the world outside of traditional educational institutions. A growing army of empowered parents and creative teachers are banding together in Maker Faires. What is this Maker Movement and why does every reader of Tech & Learning need to know about it?
SM: A number of reasons. First, it’s a global technological and creative revolution. Some very smart people are predicting that the tools and technology of the Maker Movement will revolutionize the way we produce, market, and sell goods and services worldwide. Want a new watch? Don’t ship it across the world, just print it out! Better yet, design it yourself and then print it out. Something this epic should be on every educator’s radar.
Next, the Maker Movement advocates a “Do It Yourself” or DIY attitude towards the world and problems that need solving. Learning to use what you’ve got and “give it a go” are valuable mindsets for young learners.
Plus it’s cool! Makers worldwide are developing amazing new tools, materials, and skills and inviting the whole world to join in the fun. Using gee-whiz technology to make, repair, or customize the things we need brings engineering, design, and computer science to life.
Finally, the Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. For educators, I believe that being open to the lessons of the Maker Movement holds the key to reanimating the best, but oft-forgotten learner-centered teaching practices.
Global Maker Faires and a growing library of literature inspire learners of all ages and experience levels to become inventors and seize control of their world. Online communities serve as the hub of a global learning commons, allowing people to share not just ideas, but the actual codes and designs for what they invent. This ease of sharing lowers the barriers to entry, as newcomers can easily use someone else’s codes or designs as building blocks for their own creations.
However, at the Maker Faires I’ve been to, I’ve met countless parents who say to me (as they watch their child happily soldering, building with LEGO, or programming robots) “School is killing my kid.” And unfortunately, I know what they mean. We can and must do better, not just for the empowered parents who can take their child to a Maker Faire, but for all children.
GC: The Maker Movement, according to Wikipedia, stresses “new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively.” What does that mean for classrooms today?
SM: The new Next Generation Science Standards makes explicit calls for meaningful assessment, interdisciplinary knowledge, creativity, inquiry, and engineering. Specifically, we must change how schools approach science and math.
In too many cases, science and math have been stripped of practical applications because of a false premise that practical math is only for students who don’t go to college. This is a recipe for disaster and I think we see the results in students who gradually lose interest in STEM subjects over the years. We cannot and must not continue to pretend that success in STEM subjects means memorizing the textbook.
Making is a way of bringing creativity, authentic design thinking, and engineering to learners. Tinkering is the process of design, the way real scientists and engineers invent new things. Such concrete experiences provide a meaningful context for understanding abstract science and math concepts while often incorporating esthetic components. Creating opportunities for students to solve real problems, combined with imaginative new materials and technology, makes learning come alive and cements understandings that are difficult when only studied in the abstract.
We must bravely reintegrate actual labs and design into science. We must be able to answer a math student who asks, “Why do I need to know this?” (And the answer should never be, you’ll need this next year.) We must reinvent classrooms as places where students ARE inventors, designers, scientists, and mathematicians TODAY. Making is the avenue to this reimagination of 21st century education.
GC: Your background is engineering. I began my career as a teacher of gifted children. We both subscribe to MAKE Magazine. Where do teachers, parents, students, and administrators, or for that matter anyone who is interested in providing meaningful experiences for students, begin?
SM: In his 2005 book, Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop—from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld described the next technological revolution as one in which people would make anything they need to solve their own problems. Gershenfeld predicted that for the cost of your school’s first computer, you would have a Fabrication Lab or fab lab—a mini high-tech factory—capable of making things designed on a computer. This prediction is now reality.
In our new book, we identify three aspects of the making revolution that are game-changers for schools. All of these are accessible and affordable today. Any of these are great places to begin:
Computer controlled fabrication devices: Over the past few years, devices that fabricate three-dimensional objects have become an affordable reality. These 3D printers can take a design file and output a physical object. Plastic filament is melted and deposited in intricate patterns that build layer by layer, much like a 2D printer prints lines of dots that, line by line, create a printed page. With 3D design and printing, the ability for students to design and create their own objects combines math, science, engineering, and craft.
Physical computing: New open source microcontrollers, sensors, and interfaces connect the physical world to the digital world in ways never before possible. Many schools are familiar with robotics, one aspect of physical computing, but whole new worlds are opening up, such as wearable computing. Wearable computing, soft circuits, and e-textiles use conductive thread and tiny mobile microprocessors to make smart textiles and clothing. Other kinds of new microprocessors, like Arduinos, combine with plug-and-play devices that connect to the Internet, to each other, or to any number of sensors. This means that low-cost, easy-to-make computational devices can test, monitor, beautify, and explore the world.
Programming: There is a new call for programming in schools, from the Next Generation Science Standards to the White House. Programming is the key to controlling this new world of computational devices and the range of programming languages has never been greater. Today’s modern languages are designed for every purpose and every age.
The common thread here is computation. The computational potential of these technologies, tools, and materials elevates the learning potential beyond craft projects. Of course there are things to be learned from building with cardboard or Popsicle sticks and in our book we discuss ALL kinds of making and makerspaces for learning. But computation is the game-changer that should make educators sit up and take notice.
All of these experiences and the materials that enable them are consistent with the imaginations of children and with the types of learning experiences society has long valued. Making is a stance that puts the learner at the center of the educational process and creates opportunities that students may never have encountered themselves. Makers are confident, competent, curious citizens in a new world of possibility.
GC: What matters most about learning to me is not the product but the process. What I love about the Maker Movement is that makers rarely work in isolation. Making is a social activity. The Maker Movement embraces failure and believes that everyone can make. When I look back on my traditional schooling, what I remember is that I had gifted teachers who knew the power of project-based learning. I remember the projects and the process and have little memory of whatever facts I had to cram for the dreaded “pop quiz.” What brought you to the Maker Movement? Is this just the next big thing or is this the real deal?
SM: Gary, you pack a lot into your questions! What brought me to the Maker Movement is that it deeply connects with my personal reasons for becoming an engineer. I wanted to know how to solve problems—real problems in the real world, not textbook problems. I think all kids want to change the world, and the Maker Movement and Maker ethos teaches kids that they have the power to make the world a better place, NOW. They don’t have to wait for a book or a teacher to tell them what to do, because there is a whole world out there of people all trying things and sharing the results. Somebody somewhere is asking the same questions as you and by sharing the journey, we all can learn more.
I realize the attraction of always searching for the “new new thing”, the magic wand that will fix all problems. I don’t believe that the Maker Movement is a magic wand. I hope it doesn’t get turned into a buzzword. Maybe we can talk more about how to make sure the hype doesn’t overwhelm the promise of the Maker Movement in schools. However, it is my strong belief that educators who look deeply at the Maker Movement will find a wealth of new ideas and inspiration to revitalize their classrooms and give children the opportunity to touch the future.