It is an exciting time for me professionally. I am privileged to part of the startup of several (at least 7!) makerspaces in the Greensboro/Winston-Salem, NC area. My role is to help educators find ways to integrate maker-based tools into their daily instruction. With summer break fast approaching, we are pre-planning, ordering, and developing habits-of-mind that will be beneficial to the implementation of the makerspaces when students return in the Fall. The process of how these spaces are developing is fascinating (to me, at least). Some schools are still unsure how the space will fit into their existing systems, while others see a defined role for their space. Educators are experiencing many of the same feelings their students will experience when introduced to maker-based education - or maybe not. What I find so interesting is how educators approach new (or revised) models of learning. They naturally are curious about how makerspaces will change learning, teaching, and ultimately student success. Will it just be another "thing" they have to do with their students? Will a makerspace fit into my curriculum? How much time will it take - will I have enough time to use these tools with my students AND teach my required curriculum? These concerns are real. My emphasis has been looking at these thoughts as part of a change in mindset. How do we re-design existing forms of teaching to place the learning into the hands of the students? An educator's role is not to teach, rather it is to design rich learning experiences for our students and be a resource for them when they have questions/comments/concerns/insights/disagreements. Letting go of the idea that we know everything the students need to know is at best dated, and at worst, the reason many of our students are falling behind. Maker-based tools, makerspaces, and making are not THE answer. They are simply constructs we can use to help students discover their natural abilities, talents, and ambitions. Again, it is exciting to be on this journey with these educators and I am excited to see what we can learn from our students. In short, Gary Stager has said it best "Schools have a responsibility to expose kids to things they don't yet know they love".
I incessantly think about how maker-ed can be used in the classroom. So many teachers see the need to change their instruction to meet their students' needs, but they are often apprehensive when it comes to where to begin. I know I constantly am! My hope is I can show others that maker-ed is a possible way forward - the questions remains, how? Thinking about how we think and being purposeful in our instructional methods is what a teacher constantly does. It really is not about the content or even the specific curricula we teach. What I find so empowering about teaching comes from the idea that we can help students discover how to make sense of their world and the systems they interact with everyday. Maker-ed can be tool in this journey. I love the idea of "thinking about thinking" using a simplified design process. This process is taught to designers and engineers, but I think it has huge implications for classroom instruction, too . After all, is teaching not a form of engineering ? Sounds like a future blog post! Using the three simple steps of brainstorming, prototyping, and storytelling as a means to teach students how to address and solve problems is, to me, both incredibly concise, metacognitive, and fun! Give a student a problem (preferably one of their own choosing) and have them use this accessible design process to attack it!
Scratch Day 2015 was a great success at the UNCG SELF Design Studio. Students, parents, and educators learned about Scratch and how it can be used for digital story telling, computational thinking, and creative design. Technologies such as Makey Makey, littleBits, and Microsoft Kinect were also incorporated to showcase how to weave physical computing into the wonderful existing capabilities of Scratch.
I recently had a discussion with a fellow educator about how maker-based education and formative assessment are complimentary. I think for many educators who are on the fence about maker-ed, or are not sure how it fits into the existing landscape, should look at how maker tools can be used for continuing formative assessment. I can think of no better way than to have students SHOW what they have learned by making, creating, designing, iterating, and bragging about authentic products they have created. The questions remains how does this fit into our existing high-stakes summative assessment models. Some have argued it cannot. Perhaps, a different approach should be considered. What if we can prove that maker-based education not only fits into CCSS models, but actually goes further and allows our students to show what they have learned by creating and making. I ask - if not now, then when?
A common theme I will write about in this space is on the topic of maker-based education and equity. Emergent research is showing the benefits of maker-based education (more on that later!), but what is so crucial at this moment is that we do not once again leave behind large groups of people. Leaders and practitioners of maker-based education must be purposeful in their planning and implementation of activities that are inclusive and relevant to all learners. Read this recent conversation that looks at a specific facet of maker-based education and equity.