How tos: New Making in Education posts from the FabLearn Fellows

Several recent FabLearn Fellow blog posts have created a lot of room for discussion around the topics of fabrication, making, and design in museums and classrooms. Please comment and add your voice!

A brief overview of recent posts:

In 18th Century Buildings, Vector Drawing, History, and Math, Heather Pang explores how a project designed to be a simple skill-builder evolved into something more.

Christa Flores tackles Making for Making Sake? or STEAM for 21st Century Job Skills? weaving in educational philosophy, economic policy, and reaching out to FabLearn 2014 Netherlands attendees to create a global conversation.

Avoiding Cookie Cutters by Keith Ostfeld muses on redesigning an Inventor’s Workshop in a museum setting to help partcipants create more diverse, but still successful projects and includes a terrific video showcasing some young creators in action.

Addressing another perceived roadblock to projects in the classroom – that one teacher simply can’t support students all doing different projects, Christa Flores documents students as co-teachers in The Role of Co-Teachers in a Maker Classroom.

And Heather Pang considers “… the question of how much guidance, how many constraints, how much help to give students…” in Where is the line?

These posts all explore some of the most-asked questions hands-on authentic learning: How do students build skills? How does a teacher assess project work? How does a teacher reflect and iterate on lesson planning and design? Doesn’t this take more time than traditional instruction?

But most of all, these posts all help answer the question, “Can authentic learning be done in real schools and learning spaces?” Obviously the answer is YES!

Are programmers born that way?

A comment I hear every once in a while goes something like this: “Why teach programming to everyone? There is a “programmer type” and not all kids are “that way”. It’s just a waste of everyone’s time!”

I don’t agree. I believe programming is a liberal art – a way to express yourself and make sense of the world.

I recognize the stereotype. I was that kid. Driven, intense, socially awkward, and able to tune out the outside world. I also believe that many programmers today do fit that “nerd” profile because the artificial nature of computer science in school creates a pathway that is amenable to this personality type.

The more I learn about learning, the more I realize that school often “coaches out” people who think differently and have different problem-solving styles. People who might have become amazing programmers if there wasn’t only “one way” allowed. There have been many studies about teaching programming and many point to ways to teach it that are very different than we use now. More inclusive, but untraditional ways.

We desperately need a wider variety of people to become programmers, makers, engineers and scientists. I firmly believe that allowing young people the chance to follow these paths, no matter who they are or what they natural styles are will create a stronger, more vibrant citizenry who understand science and can make good decisions about their lives.

What I’m saying is that the fact that programmers tend to be a certain personality type is a symptom of the way we currently teach – not that they naturally make better programmers.

Should schools embrace making because it develops job skills?

I often hear that making, especially learning to program, is valuable because it develops “job skills”.

However, I don’t advocate for programming or making or tinkering because it’s a job skill. In fact, the “STEM crisis” is largely a myth. (See this IEEE article series.) There is even speculation that this is largely manufactured by companies trying to get more visas for lower paid workers, plus drive down salaries for veteran engineers and scientists by inflating the numbers of graduates.

That aside, I believe that programming is strongly a part of any real “maker” program and should not be artificially separated. I also don’t believe that kids learning programming or doing hands on work is “job training.” I believe it creates habits of mind that serve everyone. Logical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity are good for everyone. All students should have access to this basic literacy just like reading and writing is taught to all even though we don’t believe that everyone will be novelists.


New report: Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature

A new literature review was just released by the Board of Science Education (an NSF funded program associated with the National Academies) called:

Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature, by Shirin Vossoughi and Bronwyn Bevan (The PDF is linked from a list, click here and scroll down)

The Board of Sciences has commisioned this and several other papers focused on informal and afterschool STEM learning. More information and links to the other papers are on their website.

The paper is a goldmine of research supporting tinkering and making activities that support learning – not just in STEM and not just in informal settings. Paulo’s research, Papert, and Leah Buechley’s FabLearn 2013 speech are all referenced (and my book too!)

The list of the other commissioned papers is interesting as well. All the papers are linked from this site.

Commissioned Papers

Formative Assessment for STEM Learning Ecosystems: Biographical approaches as a resource for research and practice by Brigid Barron

Citizen Science and Youth Education by Rick Bonney, Tina B. Phillips, Jody Enck, Jennifer Shirk, and Nancy Trautmann

Evidence & Impact: Museum-Managed STEM Programs in Out-of-School Settings, by Bernadette Chi, Rena Dorph & Leah Reisman

Children Doing Science: Essential Idiosyncrasy and the Challenges of Assessment by David Hammer and Jennifer Radoff

Broadening Access to STEM Learning through Out-of-School Learning Environments by Laura Huerta Migus

Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature, by Shirin Vossoughi and Bronwyn Bevan

Announcing – Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom

book coverSo some of you may have noticed that I’ve been pretty quiet here lately. All my writing energy has been going to a good cause though! I’m happy to announce a new book: Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, authored jointly by yours truly,  Sylvia Martinez, and Gary Stager.

This book has been cooking a long time, fueled by our belief that many schools are heading away from what real learning looks like – projects that are student-centered, hands-on, and authentic. But there is a technology revolution out there that has the potential to change that. New materials and technology can be game-changers: things like 3D printing, microcomputers like Raspberry Pi and Arduino, sensors and interfaces that connect the physical world to the digital, and programming. At the same time, a vibrant “maker movement” is spreading worldwide, encouraging people to make, tinker, and share technology and craft.

Invent To Learn is for educators who want to learn about these new technologies and how they can work in real classrooms. But it’s not just about “stuff” – we explore teaching, learning, and how to shape the learning environment. By combining the maker ethos with what we know about how children really learn, we can create classrooms that are alive with creativity and “objects to think with” that will permanently change education.

Student leadership
One chapter of Invent To Learn is about how learning by doing also gives students a chance to become leaders in their schools and communities. Giving students access to modern creativity tools and technology is not about “jobs of the future,” it’s about real learning NOW.

Making for every classroom budget
Even if you don’t have access to expensive (but increasingly affordable) hardware, every classroom can become a makerspace where kids and teachers learn together through direct experience with an assortment of high and low-tech materials. The potential range, breadth, power, complexity and beauty of projects has never been greater thanks to the amazing new tools, materials, ingenuity and playfulness you will encounter in this book.

Check the Invent To Learn website for information on getting the print or Kindle version of the book, and also about professional development for your district.

Research roundup: The 14 Key Indicators that Measure STEM Progress

The National Research Council has just published goals for U.S. STEM education. Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education gives 14 key indicators for measuring improvements to STEM education and suggests that tracking these indicators will require asking federal and state collection agencies to focus not just on schools (personnel, enrollment) but on schooling (pedagogy, knowledge acquisition).

The report’s authors build on an earlier report, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” and point out that with increased focus on U.S. competitiveness and revisions to the Common Core State Standards, the time is right to redouble our attention to making sure STEM is done right, not just reshuffled to match new standards.

Hat tip to the NCWIT blog for this!


Hurricane Sandy resources for the classroom

Students across the US have been listening to news about Hurricane Sandy, or perhaps even experiencing it live! There is no better way to introduce subjects than to start with students’ own experience. Here are some sites from Edutopia – Eight Classroom Resources to Help Teach About Hurricane Sandy.


STEM resources

New NASA iPad Magazine App “Space Place Prime” is a new NASA magazine only for the iPad. This brand new app gathers some of the best and most recent Web offerings from NASA. It taps engrossing articles from The Space Place website, enlightening NASA videos, and daily images such as the Astronomy Picture of the Day and the NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day.

“Space Place Prime” targets a multigenerational audience. Kids, teachers, parents, space enthusiasts, and everyone in between will find fascinating features on this new, free NASA app.

More information about the new magazine and other NASA apps.

Source: NASA Education Express Message — September 20, 2012

“Curiosity in the Classroom” STEM Resources
Discovery Education and Intel Corporation have partnered to create learning resources for the Discovery Channel’s series Curiosity. The site has lesson plans and activities that create STEM connections across various subjects including: artificial intelligence, communications, computers, nanotechnology, and robotics.

Change the Equation Releases State Data on STEM Learning
The 2012 Vital Signs reports paint a wide-ranging and in-depth picture of the condition of STEM learning in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. View the full report

Free webinar: The voices of girls & women and the future of STEM

Girl Scout Research Institute STEMinar: The voices of girls & women and the future of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

When: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Time: 2PM EDT (time in your time zone)

This “STEMinar” will bring together experts from diverse backgrounds and different sectors of the STEM work force to speak about the current status of girls’ interest and engagement in STEM fields, as well as current efforts to diversify the STEM workforce by boosting the number of women in STEM careers in the next decade.

We will highlight new research from the Girl Scout Research Institute, along with exciting new mentoring initiatives from Women@NASA, science education programs from the New York Academy of Sciences, and outreach efforts to college STEM majors from Johns Hopkins University.

Reserve your Webinar seat now!

Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (2012)