Pre-Service and Inservice Professional Development Papers (open access)

Teachers and teacher educators are facing great challenges teaching during this worldwide pandemic. With many conferences either cancelling or postponing their events, these sources of ideas and best practices are not available when critically needed.  

SITE-Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education shifted its spring conference to an online event this past April and which featured many timely sessions on the challenges of teaching during the pandemic. I keynoted this conference on the topic of making, hands-on, and PBL during this crisis.

In order to support teachers and teacher educators around the world who are working through the COVID-19 crisis, a collection of papers, many from the conference, documenting best practices have been published in a special issue of SITE’s flagship Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (JTATE).

This JTATE Special Issue highlights numerous and varied efforts by teacher educators, researchers and practitioners across the globe as they rapidly responded to remote teaching and learning.

View this special issue

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 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

FabLearn 2019 – Making Change in the World


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

Call for Submissions – Deadline: December 4, 2018


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:

More information at

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!


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.

Taking maker education to scale – interesting findings from FabLearn Denmark schools

Next week I’ll be hosted by the FabLearn DK (also known as Fablab@schools DK) network, a group of 44 (and growing) schools in four municipalities in Denmark: Kolding, Vejle, Silkeborg and Aarhus. These schools share resources, professional development, and expertise in their quest to engage students in high quality fabrication, design, and engineering experiences within the context of existing schools.

I’ll be one of the keynotes at FabLearn DK (sold out!) — but more importantly, I’ll be meeting and working with educators and learning from them. I’m very excited and honored that I can spend a week with these schools.

This is potentially a model of the elusive “scale” that so many educators seek from “maker education.”

An integral part of this effort is that a team from the University of Aarhus, led by Ole Sejer Iversen, has been documenting and conducting research from the start of the project to study how digital fabrication could promote 21st century skills in educational contexts. Here are some preliminary (draft) results from one report to be released very soon. status 2017

  • Number of (schools): 44
  • Teachers engaged: 1,160
  • Students engaged: 12,000

Scaling the Fablab@school initiative towards 2019 (estimates)

  • Number of (schools): 61
  • Teachers engaged: 3,050
  • Students engaged: 19,100

In a 2016 survey study with 450 affiliated students (aged 11-15) and 15 in-depth interviews we found that:

  • FabLab students improved their understandings of digital fabrication technologies and design
  • FabLab students gained experience with a range of digital fabrication technologies
  • FabLab students found the work with digital fabrication technologies motivating, interesting, and useful for their futures. They “liked” FabLab, “loved projects with digital fabrication”, and “learned a lot.”
  • Learning outcomes and motivation were very dependent on schools and teachers*

Also quoting from the draft:

There were large variations within the FabLab group with regard to the number of technologies used, design process structuring, student motivation, and students’ self-perceived knowledge, as well as on self- perceived learning outcomes such as creativity with digital fabrication technologies, abilities to critically reflect on the use of digital technologies, and complex problem solving. The variations among groups of schools followed a pattern in which higher numbers of technologies, more knowledge of the design process model, higher motivation, and better learning outcomes appeared to be connected.

In schools in which students used a wide range of technologies, worked with own ideas with a diverse range of digital technologies, and had their work scaffolded and structured around the AU Design Process Model** to a high degree, students reported that they had on average become better at imagining change with technology, at working creatively with technology, at understanding how new technologies are created, and at understanding how technology is affecting our lives as well as at solving complex problems. Thus, the project did initiate the development of Design literacy among some students. However, it was very much up to chance, what education in digital fabrication and design processes, the students received.

My notes:
* Shocking, eh? (NOT) The full report goes into more detail on these variations, but it’s no surprise that when you give people more agency, they tend to do unique things. Can we all strive for excellence? Sure – but that’s not the same as everyone doing the same thing. Scale does not have to mean replication. More on this later.

** The Aarhus University (AU) Design Process Model is a specific design process being developed for educational use. The schools were free to use (or not use) this model with students.

If schools really cared about research, students would play chess

It bothers me when I hear about how any new initiative  in schools has to be “research-based.” It’s often a code word for “go on a wild goose chase for some citations, and then we are going to say no anyway.”

If schools really wanted research-based practices that improve student learning, here’s a short list: recess, art, music, and chess. Let’s just talk about chess. It’s a fact that learning and playing chess gives kids skills and habits that help them succeed in school and in life. It’s been proven countless times using all kinds of measures. (See below)

My own introduction to the power of chess in learning began when I worked at Knowledge Adventure, an educational software publisher (then known as Davidson & Associates). I was the producer of a new line of chess products that would range from beginners learning chess to a professional chess engine. The goal was to compete with Chessmaster, then the top selling chess playing software in the world. Knowing very little about chess other than the rules of the game, I was tossed into a fascinating world of rival chess engines and offbeat personalities.

Then I met Maurice Ashley71T-1NCrQ7L.jpg. At the time, Maurice was the first  African-American International Grandmaster and had written a book about teaching chess. He worked with young people in Brooklyn, taking them to national championships. He also “called” chess games for ESPN, using a telestrator like John Madden. I went to New York to meet him and watch him work. I sat on the floor of the TV booth for six hours, fascinated at his mastery of the game and the power of his language. This was no dusty, boring exercise – he brought it alive with words that conjured images of galloping knights, brooding, sneaky bishops, and sweaty game-day warriors grinding out a victory with their sacrifices for the common goal.


The task then was to not simply capture his ideas about teaching chess, but also his personality and make it into a software experience that would reflect the passion and active engagement of Maurice Ashley. The result was “Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess” – probably the favorite software program that I was responsible for. (I can’t believe it’s still for sale!)

Maurice Ashley was recently named to the Chess Hall of Fame and profiled in an NPR series about 50 Great Teachers, Chess For Progress: How A Grandmaster Is Using The Game To Teach Life Skills.

Maurice Ashley’s YouTube channel has other gems – like him beating a trash-talking chess player in Washington Square Park and a TED Talk about working backwards to solve problems.

I’m glad that my friend Maurice is getting some well-deserved attention. He deserves all this and more. He’s directly impacted thousands of young people through his teaching, and even more broadly through his books, software, and media exposure. His message should be widely heard, especially in schools.

But for too many schools, chess (or recess, art, music..)  is not on the agenda while they chase higher test scores using test prep methodology that is not evidence-based. And if the test prep predictably doesn’t work, there is a new trend of “motivating” students to do well with parties and goodies. So bribes (proven to destroy motivation) – good, but chess – there’s no time.

Evidence, you ask? Decades of it – hundreds of studies, piled up the ceiling of the we-don’t-really-care-about-research room.

Back to school headlines – do your homework

Stories in the news like this drive me crazy: Kids have three times too much homework, study finds; what’s the cost?

It starts out:

Nothing quite stresses out students and parents about the beginning of the school year as the return to homework, which for many households means nightly battles centered around completing after-school assignments.

Now a new study may help explain some of that stress.

The study, published Wednesday in The American Journal of Family Therapy, found students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases nearly three times as much homework as is recommended.

I agree with questioning homework. Alfie Kohn makes the case in his book, The Homework Myth better than I ever could. (If you want to read a summary of his thoughts on homework, try this article from Principal magazine.)

So I start reading the CNN article with a personal bias towards agreeing with it, and hoping it makes good points that parents and teachers can really act on. The article says that kids are being assigned too much homework, even in kindergarten, where no homework is the recommendation of experts across the board.

However, I’m soon disappointed. First, they cite the “10 minute rule” from the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association. (10 minutes per grade level per night, starting in first grade.) However, if you click on the link, it takes you to an article on the PTA website, Hints to Help Reduce Homework Stress, which does not provide any information or research support for this rule. Poking around the sites shows a link to studies by Harris Cooper, PhD, such as this article Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?: If So, How Much Is Best? with a sidebar summarizing his own analysis of homework research:

“The authors found that all studies, regardless of type, had design flaws. However, both within and across design types, there was generally consistent evidence for a positive influence of homework on achievement. Studies that reported simple homework-achievement correlations revealed evidence that a stronger correlation existed in grades 7–12 than in grades K–6 and when students, rather than parents, reported time on homework. No strong evidence was found for an association between the homework-achievement link and the outcome measure (grades as opposed to standardized tests) or the subject matter (reading as opposed to math). On the basis of these results and others, the authors suggest future research.”

While this is hardly strong evidence (especially in early grades), Alfie Kohn decimates even this, “For starters, there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school.  For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement.  At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied.  Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.”

So, to me, there’s controversy about homework being worth ANY time, even the “10 minutes per grade”.

But even if you decide that some homework is a good idea, where does this “10 minute rule” come from? In her book, Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs, Cathy Vatterot says “origin unknown”. It’s just something that’s been “long endorsed” by the NEA and the PTA. So it’s a rule that’s become a rule because lots of people repeat that it’s a rule. Vatterot also provides a long and interesting discussion about the limits and contradictions found in research on homework.

But back to CNN – to their credit, they forge on to present evidence that homework doesn’t help students, that homework stress is directly related to real medical problems, and that homework discriminates against families where parents are poor, less well educated, or speak limited English.

Then comes the “what can parents do” part of the article. Instead of suggesting that parents use the evidence that homework is useless, they quote experts about “solutions” like finding a quiet spot, and encouraging your child (but with vague warnings about not helping them too much).

If that doesn’t work, parents are encouraged to communicate with their child’s teacher to “problem solve” together. Is the problem solving about getting rid of homework? No, it’s about how to get the child to do the work, perhaps in less time or with fewer tears, but to still do the work.

So how about helping parents fix the actual problem – the homework. Why not suggest that parents take on the “10 minute rule” because it’s bogus. Why not suggest that teachers push back on homework policies in their districts – isn’t this the age of differentiated instruction? Don’t we care about research? This is especially true in schools where the 10-minute rule has morphed from “no more than 10 minutes” to “10 minutes every night”.

This is what bugs me. Articles for parents are always about fixing the child, or the environment, or their own attitudes. Even when studies show that the problem is the educational practice, parents are being told the problem is them and their children.


What does “Where’s the research?” really mean?

Often when I talk to educators, they tell me about some exciting, wonderful sounding program they’ve started in their classroom. Unfortunately, the next sentence goes something like, “But my principal/superintendent saw the kids working happily away, buzzing with excitement and constructive collaboration. I got called in and told to stop it. I tried to defend it, but he/she said – where’s the research that shows it’s effective?”

Ah yes, the death knell for anything that looks fun in the classroom – “where’s the research?”

This question is almost always punitive and/or a stalling tactic. If we actually believed in research about what helps students learn, school would consist of art, music, service-learning, peer mentoring, recess, chess, rich libraries full of high-interest books, and heath and nutrition support.


I’m starting a maker program…. questions and answers

I recently got an email from a Chicago Public School teacher. She asked:

I recently read a book you co-authored, “Invent to Learn”.  I am a Chicago Public School teacher.  Until this year, I worked as a special education teacher, but I lobbied hard to create a STEM program at my school and this year I am the STEM teacher.   The program is truly mine to build and I would really love the chance to pick your brain about your experiences.  I am working to build a school Makerspace and the students are absolutely pumped.

She asked me some specific questions, and with her permission, I’m sharing her questions and my answers here.

Any mistakes you can advise me to avoid in developing our maker program?  Any mistakes you recommend that I make?

I think waiting for the perfect can get in the way of doing something good. The iterative design process isn’t just good for kids – it’s a way to feel justified in doing things and then making them better. Your process and choices will improve as time goes on.

The mistake to avoid is stopping the growth process or worse, giving up. I hope you have supportive leadership who will understand that it’s a process, not a perfection factory.

I now feel like I am teaching kids to understand things that I don’t quite understand myself (it is impossible for me to be a content expert in all of the areas the students are pursuing).  While I am excited about that, it is also scary.  How do I know if students are fostering misconceptions?  Should I be concerned about that?  Am I under-qualified for this job?

One of the things I find charming about having so many new things to explore is that it means that nobody can be an expert. Really, everyone is in the same boat you are! They may sound more experienced, but the stuff was literally invented yesterday, so it’s just a matter of trying things out.

That said, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn stuff! Build on your strengths and interests, and don’t be afraid to say to the kids – “I don’t know, let’s figure it out!” Model adaptability, curiosity, and determination for them and that’s the biggest lesson they will learn.

The thing you CAN be an expert in is teaching, and being the anthropologist and archivist for learning. Your role should be to carefully watch and listen and to help kids make their private thinking public. Some misconceptions you should be able to catch, some you won’t. It helps to have people who know about topics that aren’t in your wheelhouse, working with your students, and  listening as your students are showing and discussing their work or doing presentations.

If you weren’t concerned about this, I’d worry! Very few people are walking encyclopedias, that’s not the definition of good teaching anyway.

By the way, if your kids are old enough to learn something, they are old enough to figure it out in the first place. Allow them access to online expertise and books. Some will get it faster than others, and let them be peer mentors and local gurus. It helps you to not be the bottleneck of expertise, and models student-centered learning. “Go see Susie, she’s can show you how to solder.”

Say you were hiring to fill a STEM position at your school, what would you be looking for in a candidate?

Curiosity, adaptability, and likes kids. Ask, “what’s the last book on education you read? What’s your philosophy of learning?”

Working as a change agent can be incredibly rewarding and it can also be incredibly stressful.  What advice do you have for maintaining stamina and preventing burnout?

Be more relentless than you think you are capable of… but don’t be a martyr. I wrote more about this here: Go Ahead, Be  Unreasonable.

Build on what you (and the school) do well already. Choose your battles and work with the living.

Throughout the process of creating this program, I have been interviewing practicing engineers.  Many of them say that one of the most important qualities they value in their employees and colleagues is the ability to work in an interdisciplinary team of experts.  I am trying to structure some learning experiences where students will select an area of specialty based on their interests, dig deep to develop some expertise, and then come together with a mixed team to complete a final engineering challenge.

a.) Does this seem like a worthwhile endeavor?

Yes, but… forced collaboration is just as silly as no collaboration. Perhaps encourage teams, but don’t require them. If the collaboration is really worth it, it will happen. I don’t think it will help to try to predict exactly what expertise will be needed for a project until it’s a actually in process.

What about holding off on the selection of interests until the challenge actually starts? Start with the challenge, then divide and conquer.

b.) Based on your experience, do any projects (substantial, sharable, personally meaningful) come to mind that would lend themselves to this kind of structure?  I need help developing some good prompts (in addition to the awesome prompts for robotics in your book).

Here are some prompts for 3D printing.

Read up on Gary Stager’s “and then…” strategy for prompt creation

I am getting lots of pressure to post content-learning objectives in my classroom.  That is tricky when students may be working on different content areas.  I am pushing back a bit and trying to convince my administration to accept process-learning objectives instead (our focus areas in our makerspace are creativity, collaboration, communication, persistence, and problem-solving).  Should my objectives be my prompts (that doesn’t feel right, somehow)?

a.) Am I off base here — should I be more focused on content objectives?  

If you are working under Common Core or other similar standards, take a look at the overall goals in the first paragraphs and pages. They often have language that supports the process skills. So the argument is, I AM implementing learning objectives, ALL of them, not just the ones at the bottom bullet point level of the document.

And if you are really being told to literally post them, I think this is a waste of time and a great misunderstanding of research that says that kids do better if they have clear goals. Writing incomprehensible sentences on the board does not accomplish this.

Mandating the Daily Posting of Objectives and Other Dumb Ideas by Grant Wiggins

b.) If you were an administrator, what learning objectives would you be looking for when you walk into a learning space?

I’d talk to the kids to see if they are motivated and can use appropriate language to explain what they are doing. I’d look for authentic student work on the walls and shelves.

In our learning adventures so far, the students and I have discovered that making and tinkering often result in loose ends and dangling possibilities that are not resolved in a timely way at the end of the marking period.  While we are ok with that, I think we are really stressing out some of the adults around us.  Any advice for helping them cope and perhaps helping me respond to the question “how in the world do you grade that?”.  I am working hard to make the student’s thinking visible to me in my role as a “researcher” and valuing process.  How do I make that thinking visible to others as well?

I hear you. Many teachers incorporate documentation/reflection activities into project-based learning assignments. That’s not a perfect solution, as there’s only so much time in the day and the time kids spend on documentation is time not spent on the project. If there is documentation required as an authentic part of the project, that helps (like writing directions for others to use an invention.) I think getting video is a good thing – but then again, you have to edit it. Having the adults actually talk to the kids I think is the best thing.

It’s interesting that no one seems to want to dive into other forms of assessment that they are familiar with. For example, have your colleagues ever demanded to see a written test and asked you to justify why one question is worth 3 points and another worth 5 points? Or why the midterm counts as 30% of the grade rather than 50%?

It’s because this is new (to them, anyway) that it attracts attention. It could be an opportunity to ask your colleague to sit with you and do the evaluation with you. What factors do you look for? What’s the evidence of learning that you see? If they are asking the question honestly, then they should be willing to take the time to hear the whole answer and have a conversation.

Students have such HUGE ideas that they want to pursue (like creating a computer operating system!!!).  Any strategies for helping them to break something like that into manageable chunks without squishing their ideas?

That’s a tough one. You want them to shoot for the moon, but get something done too, not just be hitting their heads against the wall. Breaking down a problem is one strategy, having a bag of good prompts is another. Have a semi-firm timeline for when the research stops and the “do” starts. And you will get better at it too.

Have you seen STEM programs that effectively incorporated service learning to help students solve community problems?  Any suggestions for creating a culture of giving/service?

Most of the STEM focused programs I’ve seen are more about advocacy or solving problems, not so much in helping others. Like writing a proposal to the city council for a bike path. Tackling building projects supports STEM well, and even if the problem is too hard to really be solved, you can learn about the limitations of science or materials, or other hard facts.

It’s tougher to design a program around big social issues, like solving poverty or homelessness or even grander, like solving global warming. You want issues that you have some hope of having an impact, that the students can relate to and wrap their heads around.

But whatever it is, the STEM component needs to be maintained by asking the students to predict, measure, and analyze what they do. Weigh the trash collected, measure the heat saved by installing insulation and calculate the electricity and money saved. If you help someone, figure out a way to measure that impact, even if you are taking surveys and turning feelings into data like a “happiness index”.

Service learning is a terrific way to add relevance to projects, which is a key for engaging girls. The research supporting service-learning in education is also great.

Right now, I am the embodiment of “the special bunker” that meets for “42-minutes per week”.  I recognize that it is not ideal, but it is all that I can get right now.  How can I go about changing that?  Any advice for spreading constructionism and making to others?

Yes, we did say in the book that the worry about creating a makerspace is that it becomes an excuse not to change anything else. Then again, you do what you can do and keep the forward momentum going. Seymour Papert called it the Someday…Monday problem and said that what you do on Monday should at least be on the path to Someday. It’s a journey, and sometimes is a longer journey then we would like.

It’s also a show, not a tell. Develop student allies and advocates, partner with teachers who are willing, and find parents who “get it.” Call the newspaper and the local cable channel EVERY MONTH.

Find out if your admins want you to spread the word, and hold them to actually supporting it with PD and collaboration time. It’s unreasonable to expect that constructionism will just leak out of your classroom without the administration providing leadership, focus, and resources (including time and money).

Do you know any educators in the Chicago area that I should connect with?

Check the list at and join this Google group:!forum/k-12-fablabs

Anything else you think I should know or that you want to tell me?  

Start with kids doing stuff and work from there. Just do it! Connect with others who you can collaborate, brainstorm with, and share ideas (see above).

These educators aren’t in your area, but they document their process nicely –

Consider keeping your own blog – make it private if you have to, but the journal of your process will be useful to you as time goes on.

Best of luck,