FabLearn 2019 – Making Change in the World

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FABLEARN 2019 – 8th Annual Conference on Maker Education – Columbia University, New York, March 2019

Call for Submissions – Deadline: December 4, 2018

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FabLearn 2019 – 8th Annual Conference on Maker Education, in cooperation with Association for Computing Machinery, Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM SIGCHI), invites submissions for its 8th Annual Conference, to be held on March 9-10 at Teachers College, Columbia University. The conference theme in 2019 is: “What role does Maker Education play in a world with growing social and environmental challenges?”

FabLearn is a venue for educators, policy-makers, students, designers, researchers, students, and makers to present, discuss, and learn about digital fabrication in education, the maker culture, and hands-on, constructionist learning. We are seeking submissions for:

– Research Papers (full and short papers)
– Demos (projects, curricula, software, or hardware)
– Workshops (demonstrating fabrication tools, skills, and techniques to conference attendees)
– Student Showcase (for elementary to high-school students to show their projects or share rich learning experiences)
– Educator Submissions (for educators to share best practices, curricula, experiences, and visions)

All submissions will be due by December 4, 2018, by 11:59 pm (Eastern Standard Time). Decisions will be sent in the beginning of January.

We use the EasyChair conference submission system:
https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=fablearn2019

More information at https://nyc2019.fablearn.org

Making and ELL: Conversational Confidence

Making Culture Report thumbnail
Download full report from this site.

In a new study from Drexel University, researchers found that makerspaces help students learning English to feel more confident using their new language skills.

Making Culture: A National Study of Education Makerspaces, confirms something I’ve heard anecdotally from educators. Doing interesting things means that students talk about the interesting things they are doing.

Now there is a study confirming this (and more).

“In our research, we observed the potential of makerspaces to improve engagement with English language learners (ELL) and students facing disciplinary issues. First-generation English learners expressed greater agency and self-confidence from their experience in makerspaces. These students felt empowered to work on new language skills in the open and collaborative environment through conversations with their peers. Student interviewees suggested that working on creative problem-solving projects reduced the fear of making mistakes when speaking out loud, fostering greater fluency and retention:

  • ELL students referenced reduced anxiety with language around school activities based on collaboration in makerspaces.
  • ELL students referenced using technical manuals as part of their literacy development.
  • ELL students referenced using technical manuals as part of their literacy development.
  • ELL students expressed being more comfortable using their native language to problem solve or complete assignments in the makerspace than in other STEM settings.

 Teachers also frequently referenced specific changes in behavior in their ELL students from makerspace participation, leading them to believe that engagement had improved.”


Making Culture is the first in-depth examination of K-12 education makerspaces nationwide and was created as part of the ExCITe Center’s Learning Innovation initiative. This report reveals the significance of cultural aspects of making (student interests, real world relevance, and community collaboration) that enable learning. The research highlights how makerspaces foster a range of positive student learning outcomes, but also reflect some of the gaps in inclusion common in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math) fields. The report was co-authored by Drexel School of Education researchers Dr. Kareem Edouard, Katelyn Alderfer, Professor Brian Smith and ExCITe Center Director Youngmoo Kim.

Words matter – gender bias in makerspaces

Making Culture Report thumbnail
Download full report from this site.

In a new study from Drexel University, researchers found that makerspace facilitators betray gender bias when talking about their students.

Instructors primarily referred to male students as “geeks”, “builders” and “designers” (never “boys”), but most frequently referred to female students as “girls” or even, “helpers”.

Making Culture: A National Study of Education Makerspaces

Never. They NEVER referred to the male students as boys. Why? It’s an easy slip to make, reflecting the norm that “boys” are the expected gender, the way things are supposed to be, and girls have to be pointed out.

The problem is, even when it’s unintentional (and the researchers in this study felt it was) it still has impact. If girls feel they are being singled out, even subtly, it can trigger feelings of not belonging, stereotype threat, and other well-documented consequences.

So next time you start to call out, “OK guys…” take a beat and see if there’s something else to say.

If you are thinking, Wow, get off my back, thought police… think about this. You wouldn’t say “Hey gals…” to a mixed gender group, would you? And you definitely wouldn’t say it to a group of all boys. The boys would think that’s an insult, right? Why is being called a girl the ultimate insult for boys, but girls are just supposed to live with being called guys all day every day.

OK folks…. OK class…. OK y’all… it’s not impossible. And it matters.

More from – Making Culture: A National Study of Education Makerspaces

“The sheer number of identity references based entirely upon gender (“girls”) is deeply unsettling. Also note that the use of “boys” in referring to makerspace students did not occur at all in these interviews. This gender imbalance shaped attitudes and activities within the makerspaces:

  • Boys were twice as likely to hold leadership positions in group makerspace activities;
  • Boys were more likely to steer major project topics (robotics challenge, Lego, solar car design);

We also observed a gender disparity in expressed design agency (ability to design or guide project activities) in formal vs. informal learning makerspaces. Boys expressed greater agency in formal spaces whereas girls expressed greater agency in informal spaces.

This evidence suggests a persistent, but possibly unintentional, culture of bias reinforced by makerspace leadership. Research into boys and girls engaging in STEM learning reveals that girls and boys have equal potential to become proficient in STEM subjects (evidenced in our study through nearly equal makerspace participation in grades K-8).

While most leaders believe that makerspaces have the potential to function as a safe space where girls and young women can engage in an open collaborative learning environment while dismantling gender stereotypes, our research also indicates that more must be done to achieve an inclusive culture of gender equity.”

So there is another interesting tidbit. The boys “expressed greater agency” in formal spaces, whereas the girls reversed that role in informal spaces. Why? Perhaps because when it counts, boys are more aggressive in taking control? Or is it that instructors are tipping this balance?

All good research tends to create as many questions as it answers!

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Making Culture is the first in-depth examination of K-12 education makerspaces nationwide and was created as part of the ExCITe Center’s Learning Innovation initiative. This report reveals the significance of cultural aspects of making (student interests, real world relevance, and community collaboration) that enable learning. The research highlights how makerspaces foster a range of positive student learning outcomes, but also reflect some of the gaps in inclusion common in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math) fields. The report was co-authored by Drexel School of Education researchers Dr. Kareem Edouard, Katelyn Alderfer, Professor Brian Smith and ExCITe Center Director Youngmoo Kim.

Meet me at FETC 2019!

I hope to see old friends and new at FETC 2019 in Orlando, January 27-30, 2019. I’ll be talking STEM/STEAM, Creativity, Making and Makerspaces, PBL for Making, What’s New/What’s Next for STEAM, and more.

DateTimeTitleRoomVenue
01/29/201910:00 AM – 11:00 AMC023 – C023 | The STEAM-Powered Classroom: Making, Design, and Creativity 
Speakers:
Sylvia Martinez, Lead Presenter 
NORTH 220F Orange County Convention Center 
01/29/201912:00 PM – 12:40 PMC042 – C042 | Disruptive Lenses for School Leaders: Making, Agile Development, Design Thinking 
Speakers:
Sylvia Martinez, Lead Presenter 
SOUTH 310BC Orange County Convention Center 
01/30/20198:00 AM – 10:00 AM$W241 – $W241 | Making in the Classroom: Prompts and Assessment for Maker PBL Lessons 
Speakers:
Sylvia Martinez, Lead Presenter 
SOUTH 330C Orange County Convention Center 
01/30/20193:00 PM – 3:40 PMC355 – C355 | STEAM to the Future: The 4th Industrial Revolution is Coming 
Speakers:
Sylvia Martinez, Lead Presenter 
NORTH 220E Orange County Convention Center

The Case for Creativity in STEAM

Creativity on display at FabLearn NL 2018

Creativity is not just being artistic or having new ideas. As many schools are working to incorporate STEM and STEAM into the classroom, design and creativity are the key to real and relevant experiences in the classroom.

Adding more and different technology to the classroom toolkit invites students of different abilities and interests to experience STEAM subjects. This creates classroom conditions that invite technology understanding and creativity for all students, even those who think they “don’t like technology”.

In many cases, digital tools, electronics, and programming are seen as something only a few students (the “nerds”) want to try. Yet these are powerful learning opportunities that all students should engage in.

Key ideas

Design is a way to make thinking visible, connecting abstract pedagogy to the real experiences of children. The A in STEAM is not about decorating science projects or coloring math worksheets, but a way to add design and design’s cousin, esthetics, into classroom projects. 

Next Generation Science Standards provide new directions for engineering practices. Again, design is the key to this. Design is the process of engineering. It provides a framework to solve problems, using the science, math, and technology that students learn. These standards are not “business as usual” for schools. Looking at them as simply a rearrangement of existing curriculum ignores the revolutionary addition of engineering design to the expectations for science curriculum.

Formative assessment strategies that strengthen the project process in real time as students work through design and engineering projects.

Inclusivity that ensures that new technology and engineering experiences invite and support students who might not have the background or inclination to see themselves as engineers.

Equity in STEM areas for girls and other under-represented groups is not a matter of finding the young people who can do the work asked by the current curriculum, but to find new curricular areas and connections to the interesting and relevant STEM and STEAM opportunities found in the real world.

Everyone has a role to play

Leaders keep the vision alive in the face of multiple distractions. They allow new ideas to flourish and provide support for educators to work out the details, while still moving the ball forward.

Coaches help both the early adopters and the cautious “this too shall pass” reluctants to create a shared, achievable vision.

Teachers find ways to weave the old and new together in a coherent way for students. This means being a learner, leader, and a designer. There is no question that this in itself takes creativity. Teachers are asked to do more with less, and to make more time where there is none, all the time staying current with research and personalizing learning for every student. What could be more creative than that?

In the quest for STEAM, there will be tensions and questions. Can science be creative? Doesn’t math always have one right answer? Aren’t basic facts and rote memorization the ways that science has always been taught? Where will we find the time to do more in depth projects that give students creative opportunities? If students are doing more creative and personalized work, how will we assess it and meet learning objectives? Am I creative enough to make this work?

And yet, we know that students thrive when given the opportunity to do relevant, meaningful, and creative work. Together, we must push against paralyzing fear that there are too many variables and not enough time to figure it all out.

We have a ways to go

Creativity is often misunderstood as simply a personal attribute – you are a creative person or you aren’t.  Yet the word is crucial as schools struggle to implement STEAM programs that are defined only as subjects – not as mindsets. The “A” in STEAM is incredibly important – it is the verb of the sentence, and at its heart is the creative process. It is understood that artists have a creative process, but less well understood that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians do as well.

When schools work to understand what STEAM really means, there are certainly parts that seem easier than others. All schools have math and science classes. Technology is taken care of as we increasingly adopt computers into classroom practices. Engineering is a small but growing option in many schools.

However, we have work still to do. Science and math classes need to adopt modern ways that real scientists and mathematicians work. You can’t just put a sign up that says “STEAM Academy.” Students want and respond to science classes that are real and relevant, where they can engage in making things that make the world a better place, and in doing so, learn about the underlying laws of the world around them.

Technology is not only about computers, but about the basic human desire to change the world. Engineering is not just a college major, but a way for even young children to design and build things that help them make sense of the world.

When all of this is taken into consideration, you cannot help but notice that creativity, meaning literally to make things, is a key component. Design is the process of engineering and technology is the tool. Creativity is the mindset.

Recasting STEAM this way also invites more students who are not the “usual suspects” into the fantastic world of STEAM.

Soldering – it’s not scary!

Soldering is a way to join electronic components by melting metal to join the parts, so that when it cools, your parts are strongly connectedboth electronically and physically.

Soldering is sometimes avoided in school makerspaces because it seems too technical or perhaps unsafe. But soldering is a way to continue an iterative process of building circuits with more reliability and good visibility into how things are connected.

One of the most important engineering principles when building things with electronics is how reliable your physical and mechanical connections are in your circuit. The thrill of getting a circuit to work can be immediately undone when it fails in mysterious ways because the connections are weak. It also makes troubleshooting circuits more difficult when you constantly have to wonder if the components are even connected, much less doing what you expect.

As a metaphor, the solder builds a bridge at the atomic level for the electrons to walk acrossthose lazy electrons! When your parts are just touching, even if you hold them tightly, there is always a microscopic chasm for electrons to cross, and they won’t do it if they can avoid it. If you are teaching about electricity as movement of electrons, this reinforces your lesson. (Even if you aren’t there yet, you can just say that the electricity won’t jump across empty space, even spaces so small we can’t see them, and leave the atomic stuff for another day.)

There are a number of ways to make a circuit by putting the components in close physical proximitywrapping wires as tightly as you can, tape, sticky copper tape, tightly sewing conductive thread, holding things together with your fingers, binder clips, alligator clips, etc. Those are all good ways to start, because they are immediate and easily changeable. But hopefully you don’t stop therethe next step is to build circuits that are more complex and/or more permanent. Breadboards are good for that, but introduce another way for things to failbad jumper wires, incorrect placement, knocking the parts loose by accident, etc. Anyone who has every tried to use a breadboard on a moving robot can testify that the connections are never permanent. And it’s also a level of abstraction that can confuse a beginner. I believe that soldering is much simpler and easier to learn than breadboarding.

Soldering is a skill that improves with practicethere are ways to make the joins betterand of course you can learn to not burn yourself and others. There are other skills for the teacher to learn and sharekinds of solder, different soldering irons, safety concerns, the mysteries of flux, and the joys of unsoldering. There are lots of good guides and videos available online to get started.

Soldering is useful for simple circuits, even just a few LEDs and wires can be joined quickly for a huge improvement in reliability. It also works for circuits with copper tape and (some) conductive thread (here’s a trick). Soldering does not require a printed circuit board. If you are building fun paper circuits, a simple next step once your circuit is working is to reinforce the places where the LEDs touch the copper tape with a bit of solder. The reward will be a much more reliable project that will last even when it’s taken home or put on display.

Using soldering as a solution to the problem of unreliable circuits teaches students that engineering is a continuing effort to solve the small problems as you make progress toward bigger goals. That means beginners absolutely SHOULD start off WITHOUT soldering so that they actually run into the problem and authentically need a solution.

If you are considering introducing students to soldering, know that all of this gets better and easier with practice, but the bottom line is that while we wait for someone to invent conductive superglue, soldering is the best way to create reliable circuits and successful electronic projects.

CMK18 reflection – building intentionality

It’s been a month since we wrapped up the 11th annual Constructing Modern Knowledge. I hope to offer other posts about the experience, but this is one short thought. Often people say things like “Oh, you just put out a lot of fun stuff and play. That’s not the way school really works. How does that help a teacher when they get back to the real world?”

At CMK, we try to offer a view of what education looks like with as few compromises as possible. The goal is that an attendee sees that a successful learning experience is possible, and even wildly successful, without many of the things we assume are “normal” at school. 

The hope is that when that educator goes back to their school they are more aware of the compromises, and then can choose them with more intentionality. Every human endeavor has some element of compromise, and school is no different. But it’s easy to overlook that structures like grades, age segregation, textbooks, quizzes, separated subjects, the bus & bell schedule, etc. are choices, not handed down on stone tablets.

So if the experience of CMK helps a teacher go back and think about choices in curriculum, courses, or their own practice, that’s the point.

Constructionism, the gift that keeps on giving

I’ve just returned from Lithuania where I attended and spoke at the Constructionism 2018 conference. Constructionism is a term that Seymour Papert used to describe how learning happens. It extends the Piagetian idea that knowledge is constructed  inside the head of the learner, building on the existing knowledge and unique experiences of each learner. Papert added the idea that this knowledge construction is aided when the learner is involved in constructing personally meaningful things that can be shared with a community.  More than just “hands on” or project-based learning, constructionism can be a subtle thing to explain.

Eight Big Ideas poster
The Eight Big Ideas of Constructionism Poster (PDF)

In 1999, Seymour Papert embarked on his last ambitious institutional research project when he created the constructionist, technology-rich, multi-aged Constructionist Learning Laboratory inside of Maine’s troubled prison for teens, The Maine Youth Center. This project was the basis for Gary Stager’s dissertation. As Gary shares in our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, Papert outlined “Eight Big Ideas” as a handout to help visitors understand constructionism as a living, practical approach to creating an optimal learning environment.

Over the last year, the Stanford University FabLearn Fellows have translated the Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Laboratory into various languages. Thanks to some new friends at Constructionism 2018, we are now up to 11 translations of the original English text!

German, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, Italian, Swahili, Catalan, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Korean, and Galician

Korean translators Ungyeol Jung and Doyong Kim said, “We have felt the power of learning by doing again through translation, because it helped us understand much more than before.”

Students in Mathias Wunderlich’s makerspace collaborated on the German translation with more enthusiasm than a school exercise because it connected with what they do everyday in the makerspace. Read more of this story here.

“Felix, Aaron, and Oskar do their very best to understand Papert’s ideas.”

If you’d like to add another language, please comment here!

Constructionism – the gift that keeps on giving!

Creativity and making

What is the connection between creativity and making? Is all “making” creative? Is creativity expressed solely through these types of experiences? Do maker experiences give kids the chance to be creative and a structure to be creative within? Are we just parsing words?

I don’t want to spend time with dictionary definitions, suffice it to say that in everyday English, while creating is a synonym for making, they aren’t the same. Creativity is about imagination and ideas, the ability to make and think about new things in new ways.

Interest in the maker movement by educators is about creativity, yes, but also about honoring how people really learn. We can look to giants of education like Piaget who said, “knowledge is a consequence of experience” or Maria Montessori, who honored the child’s intellect expressed through play, or hundreds of other really smart people from John Dewey to Mr. Rogers. We can make schools places where these powerful ideas come to life.

In recent years, we’ve ignored a lot of this simply because it’s more efficient and cheaper to ask kids to sit quietly while a teacher lectures. The problem is that’s not how people learn. And in a blind pursuit of the false goal of “rigor”, we’ve pushed this nonsense on younger and younger students, and then complain that kids aren’t creative!

I think the interest in the maker movement is hopefully a return to our senses that children learn best by doing, by diving deeply into ideas that interest them, exploring interesting things, and being surrounded by people who care about them and want to explore interesting ideas with them. Creativity and making are deeply intertwined. But simply having children touch things other than pencils is not what “making” should mean. When we talk about making in schools, hopefully creativity and learning are coming along for the ride.

Connecting creativity with making has multiple benefits for schools:

  • Rejecting the idea that creativity is something that happens after the “real work” is done, like decoration.
  • The ideal of “openness” is powerful and modern. Students can share designs, code, and ideas and remix into their own inventions. Modern creativity means understanding how to share things with the world.
  • The inexpensive yet futuristic tools and materials can be easily learned and used by students to make subjects come alive. The ease-of-use creates new opportunities for project-based learning and iterative design. Creativity can be expressed in lower risk, lower stakes ways.
  • The “get it done” ethos of the maker movement is extremely valuable for all students in all subjects. Constraints are not impediments to creativity, in fact the opposite is true. Creativity comes in making do, making it up, and making it happen.
  • The focus on “making” rather than planning or reporting is a breath of fresh air for students who are increasingly getting fewer opportunities for hands-on experiences. Students who are worried that they are not creative or artistic need more opportunities to show what they know.
  • The wealth of projects can invigorate classrooms, and also capture the imagination of teachers who are looking for real things for their students to do. Creativity is enhanced when the whole community is excited and engaged. Enthusiasm is contagious!

Creativity is about creating things, of course, but also about developing the mindset and confidence to trust yourself in the act of creation. We do kids a tremendous disservice when we overplan every bit of work that they do. I think the message of the maker movement is a reminder for teachers to allow for more student agency, including more time. We need to give students time to step back and look at their work (work that they care about) and think about what to do next, just like a painter steps back and looks at their painting. This is not celebrating “failure” – a painter is not fixing the painting, or failing and correcting, but absorbing, reflecting, and continuing on.

So if this connection between creativity, making, and learning isn’t new, why all the fuss?
Part of this is human nature. We love new things and new ideas. It’s a terrific instinct to keep things fresh and enthusiastically embrace the future. However, that falls apart when the focus jumps from one shiny object to the next. Educators are rightly skeptical of the latest fad that comes and goes with the wind. A few meetings, plans that never get implemented, boxes of cool stuff that go directly from the loading dock to the supply closet… and then some other initiative careens into view and the process starts over again.

With the maker movement being seen as the “new new” thing in education, it’s a worry to think that this is simply part of the hype and hide cycle. I do see signs of this—teachers being told to “do maker” without any changes to schedules, materials, resources, or even time to collaborate with their colleagues about what this actually means. It’s human nature to believe that there is a magic wand out there that will make hard work unnecessary. One only has to look at the diet or beauty product industry to understand how desperately people want fast and easy change. Unfortunately, this is a shortcut to nowhere that will never result in real change.

In any implementation of new practices to make schools better, there are always a wide range of results. When you’ve been around a while, you’ve seen it all – every extreme and combination of intention, implementation, context, logistics, and luck. But the patterns often remain the same.

In the best of all worlds, students are doing challenging and creative work on authentic problems with lots of materials, time, and guidance from engaged and empowered educators. However, this requires time and trust that teachers can learn to create these experiences, and trust that students are learners with good ideas of their own.

The most important part of creativity is trust in the creative process and the creative instincts of humans of all ages. That should be a fundamental part of making as well.

ISTE sessions – Chicago in June

I’ll be speaking at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) June 24-27, 2018.

STEAM to the Future: 50 Years in 50 Minutes
Tuesday, June 26, 10:15–11:15 am
Location: Available in May

Let’s time travel 50 years forward to see what science, technology, engineering and math will be like, and the prominent role that the arts, design and creativity will play. This session will provide entertaining and thought-provoking insight into the challenges of adapting today’s classroom and curriculum for the future.

STEAM: The TEA Stands for CrEATivity
Tuesday, June 26, 11:45 am–12:45 pm
Location: Available in May

Creativity is not just being artistic or having new ideas. As many schools are working to incorporate STEM and STEAM into the classroom, design and creativity are the keys to real and relevant experiences in the classroom.