What does making in the classroom look like?

The 2014/2015 FabLearn Fellows cohort is a diverse group of 18 educators and makers. They represent eight states and five countries, and work with a wide range of ages at schools, museums, universities and non-profits. Throughout the course of the year, they will develop curriculum and resources, as well as contribute to current research projects. Their blogs represent their diverse experience and interests in creating better educational oportunities for all.
 I’ve been privileged to mentor this group this past year and part of that is summarizing their amazing blog posts. Here are some recent highlights from April 2015.

 My Visit to the ‘Iolani School

Jaymes Dec spent Spring Break  visiting The ‘Iolani School, a K-12 school in Honolulu, Hawaii. Jaymes shares their innovative approach to student-centered project-based learning, shops and makerspaces, and classroom integration.

Fostering a Constructionist Learning Environment, the Qualities of a Maker-Educator 

Creating and equipping a makerspace is just the start of changing education to a “maker” mindset. Christa Flores offers five qualities and behaviors for teachers that help  foster a constructionist learning environment.

FabLab and Its Learning Dynamic  (Part 1) &  (Part 2)

In the first two posts of a five part series, Nalin Tutiyaphuengprasert explores the roots of the current FabLab or “maker” trend of today, situated in the constructionism that Seymour Papert first articulated in the 1980’s.

  • Part 1 discusses the classroom – not just the physical setting, but the freedom and richness of the environment.
  • Part 2 explores the personal relationships and the learning dynamic – the assets at the heart of a maker classroom.

Earth Day- Free Upcycling Curriculum 

 In honor of Earth Day, Mark Schreiber contributes a free set of curriculum resources to lead students through a design process using hard to recycle materials. The curriculum covers recycling and waste investigations, materials research, engineering and design. It includes activity guides and lesson plans.

Maker research: instruments for efficacy and visual spatial skills

by Sylvia Martinez

One of the challenges of trying to incorporate more hands-on, authentic activities in schools is assessment. Schools not used to authentic assessment see it as subjective and unreliable. So the search for validated instruments, those that can be shared and compared, is vital. This post shares the work of Shaunna Smith, Ed.D. an Assistant Professor of Educational Technology at Texas State University in this area.

FabLearn Fellows – maker teachers making it work

This past year I’ve had the immense privilege of working as a mentor to the FabLearn Fellows, an NSF funded program in association with the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education.

The 2014/2015 FabLearn Fellows cohort is a diverse group of 18 educators and makers. They represent eight states and five countries, and work with a wide range of ages at schools, museums, universities and non-profits. Throughout the course of the year, they will develop curriculum and resources, as well as contribute to current research projects. Their blogs represent their diverse experience and interests in creating better educational oportunities for all.

January in the FabLearn Fellows blogs saw a wide variety of philosophical and practical ideas. As “making” in the classroom becomes more mainstream, it’s important to think about the role of the teacher/leader in creative, hands-on classrooms and educational spaces. In these posts, we can see that teachers are planners, observers, catalysts, researchers, yearners, gurus, thinkers, and yes – makers! It’s such a colorful palette of roles when compared to the perception of the teacher as a content delivery system and classroom manager.

Just in Time Teacher Learning by Heather Pang – “The bigger take-away for me, as I help students with their projects is that I don’t need to know how to do everything before we start, and I will learn a great deal as we go.  And so will the students.”

“Technological Disobedience” in Cuba and informal making education by Susan Klimczak – This video on “Technological Disobedience” in Cuba complements recent FabLearn Fellows conversations about decentering making, makers, and maker education.

Making Code Real – Keith Ostfeld, a FabLearn Fellow in a museum, thinks about how coding works in his informal education context.

“Making” in California K-12 Education: A brief state of affairs – David Malpica explores the current state of maker education in public K-12 education in California. Looking at funding, standards, and support organizations creates a fuller picture of the myriad pieces of the puzzle that make up public education policy in these areas.

“Why I am not a Maker” by Debbie Chachra: Toward problematizing what it means to be a “Maker” – Susan Klimczak shares an article questioning the identity of “maker” as celebrating only those who make things, and whether that devalues people who have interests and jobs without tangible products. She connects this to the contributions of Dr. Nettrice Gaskins and Dr. Leah Buechley in questioning Silicon Valley’s interest in “making” as a generator of innovative products.

Rwanda maker interest – I shared a post by a friend traveling in Rwanda about the potential for makerspaces there. The comments, both online and off, connected several of the Africa-based FabLearn Fellows with her with suggestions, contacts, and resources. It’s a small world after all!

The Role & Rigor of Self-Assessment in MakerEd In this three part post, Christa Flores discusses various assessment techniques with the student at the center that work with PBL and maker programs.

Molds and Molding by Gilson Domingues with Pietro Domingues. These three practical posts offer reasons and instructions on making and using molds to reproduce small objects with detail and precision.

Collaborative work in the classroom with etherpad Mario Parade explains how to use an open source software tool called Etherpad for students and teachers to collaborate and document work.

Intel MakeHers Report: Engaging Girls and Women in Technology through Making, Creating, and Inventing – Juliet Wanyiri shares a new report on girls and making.

Hey Kids – Follow the Directions! – Aaron Vanderwerff asks, does following directions mean you aren’t really making?

Toward Making Change: Beyond #BlackLivesMatter – Two posts by Susan Klimczak document a collaborative project at the South End Technology Center @ Tent City supported by the Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean’s Equity Project.

An interesting article on “Culturally responsive computing: a theory revisited” – Susan Klimczak shares an article that supports a recurring theme among the FabLearn Fellows and at the Fab Learn Conference of how to put youth of color, young women and youth living in families with low incomes at the center of the maker education movement.

Sequencing activities to support discovery – Erin Riley provides a thoughtful yet practical analysis of several activities that served to build skills all while leading to more open, exploratory projects. Is it possible to provide an environment where students can find their own way creatively, all the while gaining specific skills?

Where the circle overlaps, thinking about the “A” in STEAM by Erin Riley – “STEAM supporters believe STEM should be updated to include creativity, innovation and aesthetics. Are we thinking of this like a Venn diagram, merging form (from the artistic side) to function (from the scientific side) or an extra component to add to the mix, enhancing work in STEM?”

Stay tuned for more!

Research brief: Good learning involves direct experience, focus, motivation, and relationships

Quoted from “Conditions of Learning” – A research brief from the What Kids Can Do site How Youth Learn: A Portfolio to Inform and Inspire Educators, Students, Parents & More

In a recent paper, “Realizing the Potential of Learning in Middle Adolescence,” cognitive psychologists Robert Halpern, Paul Heckman, and Rick Larson remind us:

  • Good learning involves direct experience, “deep immersion in a consequential activity” (Bruner, 1966).
  • Learning works best when young people can focus in depth on a few things at a time; when they see a clear purpose in learning activities; and when they have an active role—co-constructing, interpreting, applying, making sense of something, making connections.
  • Motivation is a powerful engine for learning, and the right conditions can foster it. Motivation to learn is stronger when it emerges from the young person’s prior knowledge and interests, when it springs not from reward or punishment but from the task itself, and when it is driven by a desire for mastery and by identification with
    others who do it well.
  • Learning is often most effective when it is social; when it occurs as a shared activity within meaningful relationships; and when it allows for increasingly responsible participation—within a tradition, or a community of fellow learners, or one’s culture at large.

The bottom line: Young people can be—and want to be—fully engaged learners. The evaluation research on longstanding school networks that put these principles into practice—like Expeditionary Learning, Big Picture, Early College High School, and High Tech High—finds deeply engaged students motivated to do their best (National Research Council and the Institutes of Medicine, 2004; Castellano, Stringfield & Stone, 2003; Kemple, Hirliahiy & Smith, 2005).

The prevailing narrative, however, is one of student disengagement.

Read the rest of the research brief at “Conditions of Learning”

But look how beautifully supports hands-on, authentic learning advocated by educators involved in the Making in Education movement!

My favorites list for classroom making and makerspaces at ISTE 2014

sylvia 21st century learningThe International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) conference is right around the corner – June 28 – July 1, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the biggest US-based event for K-12 educational technology, and people from around the world will be there to see the latest stuff and to hear the newest ideas for technology and computers in education.

This year there is a big focus on “making” in the classroom – which I’m glad to be a part of! Last year it felt pretty lonely to be one of the only speakers talking about it. But this year, there are numerous events and sessions about making, maker education, and many hands-on and PBL sessions as well.

I’ve created a “favorite list” of some of the conference sessions and Maker “Playgrounds” happening at ISTE. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to share it from their site, but here they are with just an old fashioned copy/paste! Even then, the links don’t work and even if I was ambitious enough (I’m not) to try to relink them, the sessions are in popup boxes so they don’t have unique links. A missed opportunity, I think, ISTE. As Oprah knows, favorites are meant to be shared! Here is a link to the ISTE program search for you do-it-yourselfers.

Friday, June 27

Hack Education (I’ll be here!)
Friday, June 27, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
GWCC B303/304

Mobile Mega Share (I’ll be here!)
Friday, June 27, 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, June 28

DON’T MISS! –> Invent To Learn@ISTE 2014 workshop – robots, programming, electronic papercraft and sewing, 3D printing, and much more (plus lunch), lead by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager. Don’t miss out, registration is limited (not an ISTE sponsored event).

Sunday, June 29

Technology transforms pedagogy: Combining the tools and the vision
Sunday, June 29, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
GWCC B303/304

Student tech leaders to support digital transformation
Sunday, June 29, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 5

Genius hour 20% time: Best practices inspire creativity not chaos (I’ll be on this panel)
Sunday, June 29, 12:45 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.
GWCC Sidney Marcus Auditorium

Designing your makerspace
Sunday, June 29, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 9

Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center: Inner-City Baltimore Youth Makerspace
Sunday, June 29, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 41

The Maker Movement: Interactive electronics without programming
Sunday, June 29, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 2

Invent to learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom (Gary Stager)
Sunday, June 29, 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

STEM in K-5: Beebots to WeDo!
Sunday, June 29, 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Monday, June 30

Build your world: Mobile makerspace at the Mobile Learning Playground (I’ll be here – speaking towards the end)
Monday, June 30, 9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
GWCC Building B, Level 3 (near Room B313)

School 2.0: Where are we headed
Monday, June 30, 10:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

Student engagement: Best practices for inquiry-driven, project-based strategies
Monday, June 30, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Making sense of maker education
Monday, June 30, 1:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 38

STEAM (science-tinkering-aesthetics-engineering-math): Creating a maker culture
Monday, June 30, 1:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 9

Creating a makerspace: Makey Makey and Scratch
Monday, June 30, 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Design your school’s R&D
Monday, June 30, 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Merging mobile, makers, and science education
Monday, June 30, 5:15 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Exploring earth and space science: Hands-on littleBits STEAM activities
Monday, June 30, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
GWCC A311/312

Tuesday, July 1

Maker’s Playground and agile learning environments
Tuesday, July 1, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
GWCC Building A, Level 3 (near Room A313)

Top 10 classroom tools of the maker movement (Sylvia Martinez)
Tuesday, July 1, 10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom 3/4

Enriching elementary geometry curriculum with 3D printing
Tuesday, July 1, 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

ISTE Mobile Learning Network: Merging mobile with the maker movement
Tuesday, July 1, 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom 1/2

Educational technology and makerspaces
Tuesday, July 1, 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.

Learn How to Use a 3D Printer – Right Now!
Tuesday, July 1, 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.
GWCC Tech Infrastructure Pavilion (booth 2448)

Making and the Common Core

I get asked a lot about how making and tinkering can be integrated into classes in light of the Common Core. I think there are good answers to this, but it involves seeing the Common Core as something more than it is being portrayed in the media and in schools.

Simply, there are three parts to the Common Core – the overarching goals, the standards, and the assessments. I’m not going to go into great detail about each of these, but here is what I see happening in a lot of schools in each of these areas.

Assessment – Tremendous effort is being put into getting students ready to take the assessments and preparing the technology infrastructure to administer the tests.

Standards – New standards are driving changes to curriculum, but mostly in a rearrangement or rebranding of existing curriculum and classes.

Overarching goals – Very little is being done to address the goals of changing how and what we teach students by making it more relevant, more experiential, and requiring deeper dives instead of “covering” too many topics.

This is the problem I’m seeing – that assessment is the tail wagging the dog and taking the focus (not to mention money and time) away from changing classrooms for the better. So when we talk about how “making” can align with Common Core, it requires schools and districts to refocus on those overarching goals, and away from how many computers you need to run the tests.  Unfortunately this is a conversation that is not taking place in many educational organizations.

The Top Ten Things Maker Educators Know

I recently gave the closing keynote at the Maker Possibilities Day hosted by the Maker Education Organization and sponsored by Intel. It was interesting, because I knew that most of the attendees were already implementing making in various classrooms and informal educational settings. So I couldn’t do my regular keynote where I introduce the Maker Movement to educators and show examples of how technologies like 3D printing, robotics, wearable computing, programming, and more can be used to transform learning. This audience was well beyond that!

So I created a new talk – “The Top Ten Things Maker Educators Know” as a David Letterman style top ten list.

#10 – Just do it.
You know you can’t wait for the perfect space, budget, bandwidth, software, version. Waiting won’t make it better. Try things and then try again. Let your students help you and learn alongside them. We ask our students to take risks, make mistakes, and reach for the stars – we have to do the same.

#9 – Making things is good – computers make good things better.
We know we have to hold ourselves to higher standards and constantly push to make the “making” experiences intellectually challenging. We have to be brave enough to push ourselves to use these tools that didn’t exist when we went to school. In our book we identify three game changers – fabrication, physical computing (including robotics, wearables, e-textiles, and more), and programming.

The game changer is the computer and the computation. Alan Kay said, “the computer is an instrument whose music is ideas.”

The act of making is not good enough to claim it is always educational. I love arts and crafts, but we can’t claim that any making belongs in schools unless we can really prove that the experiences are rich and academically relevant. I didn’t say “traditional” – but…

We can be rigorous. We can add measurement, precision, context, connections to curriculum, history, and anything else you can think of.  My co-author, Gary Stager reminds us that “And then…” is a good stance to take when you think about student projects. If you are making instruments… “and then?”… can you make music? And then, can you write it down so others can play your songs? If you make a car, can you make it go fast, and then… can you make a sensor that measures that speed? And then… Can you prove that your measurements are correct? We can’t be satisfied saying, “oh, kids learn how to solve problems, or they learn to persevere (even if that’s true and wonderful) — it’s not enough. The computer is the key to pushing that envelope, as a design partner and engine of your ideas.

#8 – You can’t hurry love. Or learning.
Maker educators know it takes time. Time to learn. Time to do the job right. Time to take a break and ponder. Time to make mistakes and try try again. We want kids to learn how to dive deep into interesting tasks and then we ring a bell every 42 minutes.

I know this is SO hard. We have schedules. The bell rings, the calendar turns, grades are due. How do you make sure “things get done” – well, maybe we have to relax a little about that. Find ways to give kids the time to step back like a painter who takes the time to look at their unfinished work and think about their next brushstroke. To reduce the stress and chaos of the classroom. To move towards longer, richer projects and away from “if it’s Tuesday it must be exponents” approach to subjects.

Those of you in informal, non-graded programs have more flexibility. But even so, it’s so easy to fall into the quiz-on-Friday trap just because we are used to learning equaling “school”.

I know this is a big ask. For most schools, the bell and bus schedule are written in stone and come down from the heavens…And yes, for some of you, the ones who will be hardest to convince will be the kids — they know the game of school – when is it due? How many pages?

Which brings me to #7….

#7 – Educate everyone.
Of course I mean the students, if you are changing to longer projects tell them. Tell them why. They will whine and howl and the parents will come in and question your qualifications – or sanity … but – you need to be able to articulate why learning isn’t about timed multiplication tests or spelling bees. That’s what days like this are for – to help you concretize what you believe about learning. That you aren’t the only teacher trying to do this. To listen to someone else’s elevator pitch for their makerspace dream. Look around at your new support system.

Stay in touch – hashtag MAKERED

Days like this are to remind you that we DO know a lot about how people learn. (not that you can tell from a lot of what we do in schools)

We KNOW that knowledge is a consequence of experience. That working with your head, heart, and hands cements that knowledge better than memorizing. That being engaged in meaningful work is the ONLY way that people learn.

We wrote several chapters in our book about “making the case” for making in the classroom – with research, stories, resources. Some of you have told me today that our book helped you. I’m thankful and immensely gratified when I hear this.

But you are the way it’s going to happen. You have to constantly reach out to parents, your students, your colleagues, your administrators and leadership teams, your funders, your neighbors, the guy on the bus talking about “these kids today…”. You can educate everyone about what you see and how this changes kids lives. You can share your stories. How rich learning opportunities are important for ALL kids, and that they need them EVERY day, not “after the tests” or “after they master the basics”.

If public education means anything, it’s a way to democratize access to expertise and experience. Poor kids needs MORE experiences, MORE connections to the real world, MORE opportunities to touch the future with amazing tools like 3D printers. Instead we are told that “those kids” need to master basics and learn how to behave before they get “enrichment”. And whose kids are “those kids” – yeah, we know which ones they are. Not the kids of the politicians making these speeches. They need to be educated too.

And yes, this is a tough job.. educating the whole world, maybe impossible. But we have to do it anyway.

#6 – STEM for all.
But while we educate, we have to be careful about jumping on the bandwagon of STEM jobs. Sure there are kids who will be scientists, mathematicians, programmers, or engineers, but that’s not the reason to teach STEM in an engaging and exciting way. It’s good – but it’s not good enough to just pluck out another few kids who might get that plum STEM job.

No, I believe that we owe it to ALL kids to construct experiences that help them see science as a detective story, engineering as a way to solve their own problems or the world’s problems, and math as a way to make sense of the world. With the tools and technology we have today we don’t have to just teach “about” these things, students can BE mathematicians, BE historians, BE engineers and BE software developers. This can happen now if we tackle making STEM subjects interesting and accessible – not just to fill some economic balance sheet, or crush other countries – but as a human right. That our democracy and the future of the world depends on an informed, educated community –every adult, every child.

So yeah, I get it. It’s a buzzword and there is funding for STEM. Get the money! But let’s make sure that what we create is fundamentally aimed at reaching every child – not just the usual suspects, not just a lucky few. That might be difficult – to change people’s minds that only SOME kids need to know science, only SOME kids need to learn programming. Maybe even impossible – I know, but we have to do it anyway. 

#5 – Balance. all kinds – Gender, problem solving styles, artistic interest, ages.
I’m a girl, I’m an engineer – do I care about girls in STEM? Of course I do. I worry that courses and careers are more difficult for females for a wide variety of reasons. We know them – the culture, tradition, economics…Just yesterday I saw ANOTHER study about how teachers respond to boys questions with longer answers than girls. I worry that research about the effects of stereotype threat aren’t taken seriously. That maker spaces often look like places where girls WONT be welcome. And yes, the Maker Movement has more than its share of bro-grammer testosterone.

But then again, when I look around Maker Faires I see lots to cheer for. I see heroes of Maker Movement of all ages, from veteran wood workers to Super-awesome Sylvia, a 12 year old girl – being celebrated and respected. I see so much art and whimsy incorporated into techie projects. I see respect for different points of view, for different ways to see the world, different ways to solve problems.

But in school, we only respect one way – the analytical, linear problem solving approach. Seymour Papert, father of educational technology said there are two ways to solve problems: Analytical and bricolage. Bricolage is a French word meaning tinkering. But it also has a connection to the Maker Movement – in French, it has a connotation of reuse and artistry in your tinkering.

Analytical styles have long been seen as more “academic” – the linear, step-by-step approach is taught and reinforced in school, especially in higher grades. We push abstractions on students at younger and younger ages and call it rigor. And yet, there is another way. Bricolage, or tinkering is often how real science happens. I know as an engineer there were many more times we tinkered our way to success rather than planned it.

Real scientists make mistakes, ponder, have a cup of tea, argue with each other, and sometimes have happy accidents.  Bricolage is the way designers work as well, the real process of design, and I believe a natural progression from the play of childhood to a more reasoned and directed approach, but still a non-linear and iterative way to solve problems.

Sherry Turkle showed in her groundbreaking work that these two styles are associated with gender. That bricolage – an intuitive, creative problem-solving style, what she called “soft mastery” is often discounted as being immature or naïve. You can see that these adjectives appear to describe a more “feminine” style.

Of course I’m not saying that all boys solve problems one way, and all girls the other – most people use a combination of styles.

We used to literally tie left-handed kids hands behind their backs and force them to write with their right hands. We know now, that that causes serious learning problems, stuttering, life-long consequences.

I think we are still figuratively tying students hands behind their backs by insisting they all solve problems in preferred “analytical” ways, ignoring not only the fact that we are hurting them, but also that analytical isn’t even the way real designers and engineers work.

When we discount people’s problem solving styles we communicate to them that they aren’t “smart” – and millions of people are being convinced every day that they aren’t smart. That their ideas aren’t welcome. It’s not true, and it’s a shame and a waste.

We have to find ways to honor all problem-solving styles, to allow people to master knowledge in their own way. This is harder than everyone doing problem 12 on page 47 on the same day at the same time. Teaching in a way that supports multiple learning paths and styles is harder to do, maybe impossible to scale – and yet we have to do it anyway.

# 4 – This doesn’t just happen.
People say things about technology like, Oh the kids are so smart they will figure this stuff out by themselves. Old fuddy duddies should just step aside… Or – we’ll just let the kids mess around and discover things.

Personally, I never use the term “discovery learning” it’s too easy to mock. “oh the kids will wander barefoot through the field with flowers in their uncombed hair and lo and behold — the Pythagorean Theorem! oh please. That’s not going to happen. It’s up to caring, trained people who are experts in their subjects AND in the art of teaching who can create situations where running into big ideas, powerful ideas is inevitable. Deliberately prepared, yet open learning experiences that are rich and valuable. This doesn’t just happen. It takes skill, passion, and sometimes years of experience working with children.

It’s an art to listen for that teachable moment and then know what to do next, ask the question that unlocks a door that THEY can walk through, offer the right book or the right tool, or just leave them alone sometimes. It’s an art to gather the right materials, ones that have a low threshold and a high ceiling, and challenge kids to push past their comfort zones. Teachers and leaders are the key to making education better and the key to incorporating the power of the Maker Movement, of infusing the power of technology into our schools and learning spaces.

#3 – Engaged and empowered is an outcome of doing meaningful work.
People say technology is so engaging to kids. I think they get it wrong. Maker educators know there is more to it than bells and whistles.

Kids are engaged by doing important work – work that is challenging in a way they find interesting. Mastering something difficult and important in the eyes of the world, like technology is engaging. If you can then share your expertise, so much the better.

This is a cycle of citizenship – of belonging to a community that gives you value and values you. We often talk about “digital citizenship” when we really just mean telling the kids the rules and how they will be punished if they mess up. But a learning community is a two-way street.

When you give someone responsibility, and they step up, they build trust in themselves and trust in their ability to do the next difficult thing. They engage in learning. They become empowered because they did something powerful. You can’t teach empowerment or do empowerment TO kids. It’s an outcome of doing meaningful work – meaningful to yourself and to others.

And by the way, you can’t have empowered students without empowered teachers. Script reading robot teachers will not empower students. We have to fight against the devaluation of teachers, and the devaluation of kids as cogs in some corporate education machine. We can do this, we can change minds, even if it’s hard -even if it seems impossible. We just have to do it anyway. 

#2 – Making is about making sense of the world not making stuff.
Maker educators know that making isn’t about a shopping list or a special room, it’s about allowing people to reach their full potential as makers of meaning. Humans naturally seek meaning in their lives. Every kid wants to change the world – we can give them the tools and the maker “get it done” ethos that makes it possible.

We know the world is full of big problems that need solving. Our kids need to believe they can change the world. Not in magical superhero ways, but ways that are real. We need them to believe they can solve problems – and even when it seems impossible – we need them to do it anyway.

#1 – You (and your kids) are the right people.
You knew this was coming. But…. maybe you doubt that you are the right person to show others the way forward. That someone else should speak up, someone else should lead the way.

There is a problem-solving technique called “open-space technology” that has a motto that I love. It’s “the people in the room are the right people.” I think it applies to everything. Every classroom, every learning space has the right kids to tackle making things, important things, things that no one has ever thought of before. Even when those kids are disempowered and disengaged. Even when no one expects anything from them. They still are the right kids. Amazing kids, extraordinary kids. You’ve seen them, you know them.

And we have the power, the people in this room, to change education, to change the way we value children in this society. To respect and honor EVERY child’s potential to be a maker of meaning, and a maker of a better world.

And yes, we know it’s a tough job, and yes, it may seem impossible, but we are the right people … so we have to do it anyway.

The Maker Movement Conquers the Classroom – THE Journal

The Maker Movement Conquers the Classroom

“Whether it’s a paper airplane or a robot that walks, kids have always wanted to create functional objects with their own two hands. These days, many educators are channeling that natural urge to build with help from the wider “maker movement,” which has spawned maker faires and dedicated “maker spaces” in classrooms and media centers around the country. Pam Moran, superintendent of the Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, contends that American classrooms of the past regularly fueled this type of creativity, and now is the time to bring back that spirit of innovation. “I see the maker movement as being a reconnect, both inside schools, as well as in communities, to redevelop the idea that we are creative individuals,” Moran said. “We are analytical problem-solvers, and we are people who, in working with our hands and minds, are able to create and construct. We are makers by nature.”

The article has some great examples of what’s going in real schools, and we contributed as well:

“While cutting-edge technology can help engage students, Gary Stager, coauthor (with Sylvia Martinez) of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroompointed out that maker projects don’t require schools to buy expensive machines. “We see teachers and students working with traditional materials combined with new materials — even cardboard construction,” he said.

Martinez added, “There are new conductive materials, conductive tapes where you can paint a picture that actually does something, such as lighting up. These materials draw people in in ways they don’t expect. One person might be interested in building a robot, but another might be interested in building a glove with a sensor on it.””

Check out the rest of the article, The Maker Movement Conquers the Classroom online or in the April 2014 issue of THE Journal.

Maker classrooms: Is there an app for that?

Since publishing Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, Gary and I have done many sessions, workshops, and webinars introducing teachers, students, and parents to the fabulous tools and technology of the Maker Movement and the powerful ideas about learning it embodies.

One question we get asked is, “What iPad/iPhone apps can I use for Maker classroom activities?” While there are certainly many apps that provide creativity options (with more being added every day), what people are asking for are apps that go deeper in supporting 3D printing, computational technology, physical computing, robotics, wearable computing, and programming.

Sad to say, the answer is, “not much”. For things like programming and interfacing with microcontrollers like Arduino, the best use for an iOS device is as a reference resource – playing videos and reading online manuals on how things work, while you work on the real thing in front of you. Or secondly, taking photos and videos to document the process. And I really don’t count apps that work as front ends for design or product databases, those to me are also just other forms of reference material.

Now, that’s not a slap at using the devices that way. It’s a huge advantage to have fast access to reference material and an easy-to-use device to document your progress! My iPad is an essential part of my personal maker-space to constantly look things up or watch videos while I’m working. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what people mean.

The lack of maker apps for iOS* is mostly because:

1. There is no USB connection on iOS devices, which is the typical way programs are downloaded to microcomputers (like Arduino or the Lilypad.)

2. Apple restricts iPad apps that have any kind of real programming capability. There are some apps that simulate programming, but nothing is allowed that is a real programming language, even ones as nice and wonderful as Turtle Art or Scratch, or even simple compilers like the Arduino Development Environment. (Scratch 2.0, which runs in the browser, still won’t run on iOS because iOS does not support Flash.)

That said, there are some companion apps that might be useful in some maker classrooms:

  • 3D scanning/design apps – these use iPhones/iPads to scan 3D objects so that the objects can be recreated in CAD programs and potentially 3D printed or used in games such as Minecraft. There are also simple design apps that allow for 3D design. In both cases the objects need to be uploaded to a web database and then downloaded to your print control software on your computer. AutoDesk is one source. (It’s highly likely that this will change in the near future and there will be iOS apps that can do the design and then beam the design file directly to the printer. But not many school-accessible printers these days can do this.)
  • Circuit CAD programs – there are circuit design apps available. In many cases, these will be too complex for all but the most dedicated HS students.
  • Electronic circuit “helper” apps – For example, there are apps that read resistors and translates the color coded bands on them to resistance values. There are also Ohm’s Law calculator apps, reference apps for pinouts or other specifications of parts and circuitry, etc.
  • I found one Arduino simulator app in the iTunes store, but there are no reviews and I haven’t tried it. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/arduino-simulator-2x-learn/id439218526?mt=8 Seems like a lot of work when it’s probably just as easy to try things out for real using the real parts.

More complex:

  • You could get an Ethernet or other wireless shield for the Arduino to extend its capabilities. Then there are apps designed to control the Arduino using the iPhone/iPad like a wireless remote. However, you still have to program the Arduino with a real computer.
  • Other apps can collect data from the Arduino and create data logs and graphs  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/arduino-manager/id497240094 (Again you would need an additional shield on top of your Arduino to transmit data.)
  • O’Reilly publishes a book on using iOS sensor apps with Arduino  http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920021179.do

*Note: I realize that “apps” also run on Android and Chromebooks, but that’s a whole different post! Very briefly, Chromebooks do have a USB port, but still only run programs through the browser. This would allow for Scratch 2.0, but not using Scratch to control physical computing devices. There is some discussion in the Arduino forum about programming Arduinos with Chromebooks, but the discussion is pretty technical, and honestly, if you can follow the discussion, you don’t need me to help answer this question! Also, yes, some Android phones have sort-of USB ports. But every project I read, even the “easy” ones, came with warnings about frying your phone. Not really something I can recommend!


Lessons from the Maker Movement for K-12 Educators

In our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering, we explore how to put an active learner at the center of the learning process, building on traditional progressive classroom practices combined with materials old and new, and incorporating the lessons of the Maker Movement.

The “Maker Movement” is a technological and creative revolution underway around the world. Fortunately for educators, the Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. Embracing the lessons of the Maker Movement holds the keys to reanimating the best, but oft-forgotten learner-centered teaching practices.

New tools and technology, such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, e-textiles, “smart” materials, and new programming languages are being invented at an unprecedented pace. The Maker Movement creates affordable or even free versions of these inventions, and shares tools and ideas online, creating a vibrant, collaborative community of global problem-solvers.

Lessons from the Maker Movement

Doing” is what matters – Makers learn to make stuff by making stuff. Schools often forget this as they endlessly prepare students for something that is going to happen to them next week, next year, or in some future career. Students can and should be scientists, artists, engineers, and writers today. The affordable and accessible technology of the Maker Movement makes learning by doing a realistic approach for schools.

Openness – The Maker Movement is a child of the Internet but does not fetishize it. Makers worldwide share design, code, and ideas, but making occurs in real life. Makers share their expertise with a global audience. “We” are smarter than “me” should be a lesson for educators. Collaboration on projects of intense personal interest drive the need to share lessons learned, not external incentives like grades.

Give it a go – Back in the ‘80s, MacGyver could defuse a bomb with the chewing gum and paper clips he found in his pocket. Modern MacGyvers are driven to invent the solution to any problem by making things, and then making those things better. While perhaps “grit” or determination can be taught, the best way for students to become deeply invested in their work is for their work to be personally meaningful, supported by time and encouragement to overcome challenges.

Iterative design – Computers make designing new inventions risk-free and cheap. You can now tinker with designs, code, and make nearly perfect prototypes easily and quickly. This is a departure from linear design methodology that assumed that mistakes were expensive and need to be avoided. However, many educators are still clinging to old design models where students are provided recipes and prescriptive rubrics. This deprives students of the chance to take risks and learn how to navigate their way to the end of a project.

Aesthetics matter – Many Maker projects are indistinguishable from art. It’s human to embellish, decorate, and to seek the beauty in life. In schools, there is a movement to add Arts to STEM subjects (STEAM). That’s a good instinct, but if school hadn’t artificially removed all traces of creativity and art from STEM subjects, we wouldn’t need to talk about STEAM. Find ways to allow students to make projects with pride and unencumbered by categorization.

Mentoring defies ageism – As Sir Ken Robinson says, school is the only place in the world where we sort people by their date of manufacture. The Maker Movement honors learners of all ages and embraces the sharing of expertise. Young people like “Super Awesome Sylvia”, a young maker who broadcasts her project tips on her own web show, or Jody Hudy who surprised President Obama with a marshmallow cannon at the White House are valued alongside decades-older master tinkerers and inventors. Schools may create opportunities for mentoring and apprenticeship by connecting with the greater community. Access to expertise must not be limited to the classroom teacher.

Learning is intensely personal – The current buzz about “personalized learning” is more often than not a scheme to deliver content by computerized algorithm. Not only is it magical thinking to believe that computers can teach, it confuses learning with delivering content. Learning happens inside the individual. It can’t be designed or delivered. Learning is personal – always. The Maker Movement values the intensity of the learning experience with endless options and choices about what a person might find interesting or fall in love with. Giving kids the opportunity to learn about what they love means they will love what they learn.

It IS about the technology – Some educators like to say that technology is “just a tool” that should fit seamlessly into classrooms. In contrast, the Maker Movement sees tools and technology as the essential element for solving unsolvable problems. To Makers, a 3D printer is not for learning to make 3D objects, but is the raw material for solving problems like how to create inexpensive but custom-fit prosthetics for people anywhere in the world, or print a pizza for hungry astronauts. The Maker philosophy prepares kids to solve problems their teachers never anticipated with technology we can’t yet imagine.

Ownership – One motto of the Maker Movement is “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” Educators often talk about how learners should own their own learning, but if the learner doesn’t have control, they can’t own it. Teachers should consider that prepackaged experiences for students, even in the name of efficiency, are depriving students of owning their own learning.

Common Core and the new Next Generation Science Standards emphasize critical thinking, creativity, and 21st century skills. To achieve these goals requires taking a hard look at both what we teach and how we teach it. The Maker Movement offers lessons, tools, and technology to steer a new course to more relevant, engaging learning experiences for all students.

(Modified from our guest post in the ASCD SmartBlog)