Engagement is not a goal, it’s an outcome of trust and responsibility

You often hear people talk about how technology is so “engaging” for kids. But that misses the point. It’s not the technology that’s engaging, it’s the opportunity to use technology to create something that is valued by the community and by yourself. Yes, a new device can be entertaining for a while, but when the novelty value wears off, what are you left with?

empowerment cycle
Feel free to use — with credit!

Engagement is not a goal, it’s an outcome of students (or anyone) doing meaningful work. Meaningful to themselves AND to the community they are in. Meaningful because someone trusted them to do something good and they shouldered the responsibility. Trust engenders trust in yourself and in others. Joining as a citizen of a community, whether that community is a classroom or a virtual tribe, where you belong, and your voice is valued and encouraged. True citizenship is a two-way street, not a list of rules and punishments.

Engagement is not something you DO to kids or you GIVE kids, it’s the outcome of this cycle of experiences.

Podcast: Mindstorms – A Maze of Cognitive Turbulence

Mindstorms – A Maze of Cognitive Turbulence is an online book club/conversation on Facebook plus a radio/podcast series about Mindstorms, a seminal book by Seymour Papert about his theory of learning, Constructionism. I’ll be a guest with Gary Stager on the third interview installment, airing live Sunday February 24, 2019 at 8PM EST, 5PM PST.

Future Episodes

  • This Sunday, Feb 24: Episode 3 – Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez. We will be talking about Seymour Papert and Mindstorms. I can tell you that I’m re-reading Mindstorms and it’s as relevant and powerful today as it was when it was written. If you stare hard through Invent to Learn, you will see the imprint of Mindstorms like an X-ray image. (Update: Direct link to the recording)
  • Sunday, March 3 Episode 4 – Jim Cash, an Ontario Canada educator well-versed in constructionism.

Recordings

  • Episode 1 – Carol Sperry. Carole was a teacher in the 80s entranced by the way Logo opened the door for her to teach (and better understand) math. Carol wrote the introduction to the second edition of Mindstorms and was the teacher who told Seymour about her student who said that Logo was “hard fun” – a phrase that has become synonymous with constructionism.
  • Episode 2 – Brian Silverman and Artemis Papert. Brian was at MIT when Logo was created, and has a hand in designing and programming many of the versions, including Scratch. Artemis is an artist and the daughter of Seymour Papert. Together, they designed and now support Turtle Art, a lovely representation of Logo with Scratch-like blocks.

The interviews are being conducted by Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen, Canadian educators and long-time advocates of constructionism. The sponsoring project is Code To Learn, “…a project funded by the Canadian government’s CanCode initiative, brings you this Mindstorms book club. Code To Learn is based heavily in the work of Seymour Papert and provides the latest version of the all-Canadian MicroWorlds JR and MicroWorlds EX at no cost to all Canadians. These come in French & English and there is even a version of MicroWorlds JR in the Ojibwe language (with others to come)!”

Hope you tune in!

New! Second Edition of Invent to Learn Released

We are excited to announce that a newly revised and expanded edition of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom has just been released.

It’s been five years since Gary Stager and I published the first edition of Invent to Learn. In that time, schools around the world have embraced making, makerspaces, and more authentic STEM/STEAM experiences for all children. It’s been fun to be a part of this worldwide phenomenon!

The brand new second edition includes a lot of new material reflecting how much has changed in a few short years. There are many new microcontrollers to choose from, and many more that are better for school use. The fabrication chapter has been updated to reflect how the design process has been streamlined by hardware and software progress. There is an entirely new section on laser cutters and CNC machines.

Programming options have expanded as well with software appropriate for students as young as four years old. Finally, there are some fantastic and accessible environments for programming microcontrollers. When we published the first edition, we were positive that a good block-based programming language for Arduino was just around the corner. Although new software environments emerged, they lacked the polish and stability required to make a difference in classrooms. Now things are different.

There is more research about the positive impact of fabrication, robotics, and coding to share. All of the suggested resources have been updated and expanded. The online resources here on inventtolearn.com are even more extensive.

The additions and updates to the book go beyond mentions of new technology and fixing broken URLs. There are new examples from educators around the world who have embraced making in their classrooms. There is more context provided for the connections between project-based learning and making. We attempt to be clearer about the real reason that making matters—not to build a special room or purchase equipment, but to make schools a better place for ALL students and teachers to learn.

The second edition is now available in paperback, hardcover, and Kindle on the Amazon website and other online retailers. For volume sales, using a PO, or international sales, please contact sales@cmkpress.com.

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.

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.

Global education meets maker education – free webinar

Why is “making” in education taking off globally? It’s because the whole world wants children to become competent and capable citizens.

Last week I had the honor and privilege of speaking to a global audience of educators at the eighth annual Global Education Conference, an online conference that supports global collaboration and connected education. The conference is unique in that it is a free, online event that takes place around the clock during International Education Week.

The sessions are now available online – mine is embedded here, but be sure to check out all the keynotes and sessions. There are inspiring collaborative project ideas, sessions on encouraging student voice, global education case studies, and more – both for K-12 and Higher Education.

The Global Education Conference organizers, Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon, are experts at facilitating online conferences and face to face events. They will be hosting events at TCEA, ASCD, COSN, and ISTE, so be sure to sign up to be notified of these and other future opportunities.

Don’t see the embedded video? Click the image below to watch on YouTube.

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See you at FETC? January 2018 in Orlando – use this discount code

I’ll be a featured speaker at the Future of Educational Technology Conference this upcoming January in Orlando, Florida. The fine folks at FETC have supplied a code for you to get a super discount to this conference — 10% off by using the Promo Code MARTINEZ18.

Plus – register now for early bird savings – FETC’s $150.00 Super Savings ends next Friday, Nov. 17. Use the link (or my promo code at the regular conference site) and get both discounts!

Hope to see you there! Here’s my lineup:

1/24/18 workshops:

  • PBL Gets a “Make”-Over: Prompts and Assessments for Maker Classrooms
  • STEAM You Can Wear!

1/25/18 sessions:

  • Invent to Learn: Remaking School for the Future
  • Making and Makerspaces: The Four Keys to Success

Use this link to go directly to the discounted registration.

My 10% discount code is good until Jan 22, 2018 – but the early bird savings only last until Nov 17 – so don’t delay!

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!

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!

Invent to Learn a “Must Read” for Modern Educational Change Leaders

coverModern Learners just released a free whitepaper, 8 Must Read Books for Modern Educational Change Leaders. We are honored to have Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom appear alongside the other featured books from Seymour Papert, David Perkins, Seymour Sarason, and many more.

“Sylvia and Gary’s book became an instant classic that in a short time has influenced classroom practice around the world. While on the surface, Invent to Learn seems to be a book about the nascent Maker Movement that has gained great popularity in recent years, this is more a book about how to create opportunities for deep and powerful learning for kids that is amplified by technology. Building on the work and ideas of Seymour Papert, this is one of the few books that situates real learning in a fully modern context.”

Modern Learners, a global online community headed by Bruce Dixon and Will Richardson, features podcasts, courses, and a platform for educators to join in conversations about changing the practice of school.

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