TalkingSTEM interview (part 2)

Part 2 of an interview I did with Koshi Dhingra on her blog, TalkingSTEM:

Conversation with Author of “Invent To Learn”

KD: School leaders, interested in providing opportunities for students to participate in the maker movement, often feel that they need a large influx of funding or of time or of appropriately qualified faculty before they can do so. What would you say to them?

We wrote a chapter about this in Invent To Learn to help school leaders “make the case” for making in the classroom. It’s not dependent on funding, but DOES need commitment to change the status quo. That means leadership that includes faculty in what these changes entail, and how it’s going to happen. Leadership is about vision, getting people on board with the vision, and making it their own. This takes time and persistence, not money. I’ve said before that “Making is not a shopping list or a special place, it’s a stance towards learning.” Creating a school culture where that stance is normal and expected in every classroom, lab, and learning space is what is needed.

KD: Many school administrators feel that the maker movement is for those settings that either brand themselves as STEM learning spaces (such as science museums, STEM Academies, or STEM-specific clubs) as opposed to schools aiming to provide a wholistic education that spends time and energy on the humanities. What would you say to them?

Although it seems obvious that the “low hanging fruit” of the making in education movement is STEM, I think it’s broader than that. The goal of all classes should be that students do work that is authentic, with real goals and a real audience as much as possible. If you want kids to learn grammar, they need to be asked to write things that they are proud to edit properly. It’s not that writing is old and boring and 3D printing is the wave of the future, that’s not my point. It’s that if you have interesting materials for all students to use in many different ways, you also have the opportunity for students to write instructions, make videos, learn about the history of things they build, or share their creations with others.

KD: Your list of resources to explore in Chapter 14 of Invent to Learn is impressive. I know I am going to be looking at the cardboard category carefully. How did you create these lists?

Gary and I have been working with a lot of schools and running professional development for teachers for many years. This gives us the opportunity to try new things and learn from schools that are on the cutting edge of student-centered creativity. The resources were gathered over many years and from around the world, and we continue to add new ones. We host a 4-day summer institute in New Hampshire that models our philosophy with lots of tools, technology, and software that we continuously evaluate and update: Constructing Modern Knowledge

I keep an online “” account of new resources that you can subscribe to as well!

KD: What does the word “project” mean to you? What does “STEM” mean to you? The terms are used so much by schools that it often is confusing for students, parents, and teachers to know what types of activity these terms should represent.

It’s often the case that terminology wanders from its original intent to come to mean so many things that it nearly means nothing! It’s also the case that schools try to shortcut best practices because there is so little time to focus on anything. For this reason, many “projects” assigned to students are merely long assignments. In many STEM programs, students are offered a few extra classes, but still take math separately from science, and get introduced to technology only as computer literacy.

I believe that the missing key to these is design – that by rethinking student work we must allow iterative design cycles where students are actually thinking about what they are doing. This is much like a painter standing back from their and thinking about what to do next. We rush kids through their work (and it’s never really “their” work) to such an extent that it becomes just a never-ending to do list, made by someone else.

We are actually lucky, I think, that so many kids work so hard on things that aren’t really meaningful. Imagine if they had the opportunity to work on projects that really mattered to them and to the world.

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