Written by: Spencer Greenhalgh
Primary Source: Spencer Greenhalgh
My friend, colleague, and fellow Francophone Michelle Schira Hagerman recently wrote a great blog post about the role of “making” in MSU’s edtech master’s program. In short, MAET has pushed forward with including making activities in its curriculum despite a fair amount of pushback from students because we believe that it has some valuable contributions to make to education and educational technology. I’ll let you read Michelle’s post to get the whole scoop, but she frames her discussion of making and education in the context of a Maker Faire put on by some of my students in the first year MAET East Lansing Cohort, so I’m eager to contribute a few words of my own.
Over the course of two weeks, many of these students (of whom I am very very proud), went from knowing little about making to organizing an event that got a fair(e) amount of attention and provoked a lot of smiles. Some of us, including me, actually began the project with some reservations, not quite convinced that making really had something to offer us in our individual classrooms. I, personally, have been totally convinced that making has a place in education broadly and in MAET specifically. I’m becoming more and more interested in the processes involved in thinking, learning, and teaching, and, as Michelle and my students remind us in her post, making is valuable because it embraces the processes that drive learning.
That being said, I sympathize (and, to an extent, still agree) with those who still harbor significant reservations about introducing making into their classrooms. As a French teacher, I was already hesitant to bring loosely-structured linguistic projects into my classroom; I probably would have needed a lot of convincing that I should embrace loosely-structured projects that involve as many circuits as they do -ir verbs. The ed psych and ed tech literature tells us, though, that teaching strategies are ultimately just tools to support learning (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000) – hammers and screwdrivers look very different and work pretty differently, but, when used properly, they ought to have a similar outcome. So, if you’re a teacher that likes the idea of making but isn’t quite convinced that it will fit in your classroom, maybe we can find another tool that will do the same job.
This isn’t about rejecting making, though, it’s about capturing the spirit of making in a way that you’re more comfortable fitting into your classroom. So, how do we capture the spirit of making? In their 2013 book Invent to Learn, Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager suggest that this spirit can be found in the following three activities:
- Making: Modern learning theories emphasize that students have to construct knowledge in their minds to truly learn it. A number of educational trends build on this theory by encouraging teachers to have their students literally construct something, with the understanding that the literal construction process reinforces the cognitive construction process.
- Tinkering: Tinkering is an attitude or a mindset that embraces loosely-structured or completely unstructured experimentation. Allowing students to tinker means letting them find their own answers to questions, giving them time to find those answers, and encouraging them to generate and evaluate new ideas.
- Engineering: We usually associate engineering with cars and bridges, but Martinez and Stager embrace a broader definition of the term. In their minds, engineering is simply making and tinkering in a way that has a concrete, real-world impact. In other words, our students become engineers if we ask them to solve real problems.
So, if the Raspberry Pi or Squishy Circuits aren’t going to make an appearance in your classroom any time soon, I encourage you to at least introduce some activities that embrace the spirit of making. In my next post, I’ll talk about some other teaching strategies that I believe embrace this spirit. Before then, though, let me make three quick caveats:
- I’m not convinced that every classroom needs a 3d printer (as one over-eager conference keynote once tried to convince me), but even if they embrace making, tinkering, and engineering, I don’t think teachers should reject the maker movement too quickly. In another fantastic post, Michelle makes a case for making in English Language Arts classrooms, demonstrating that there’s room for more “pure” making in any content area.
- That being said, as long as you’ve given it a fair shot, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with applying the spirit of making to other kinds of activities. “Faker Faire” makes for a catchy title, but there’s nothing fake about engaging learning activities, whatever they are.
- Advocates of making in education typically rely on passion and theory rather than empirical data to make their case, and I’ve followed in that same vein here. I owe it to you and to myself to become more familiar with the research on making, but I don’t have any to point you to at the moment.
Bransford, J., Cocking, R., & Brown, A. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington D.C. : National Academy Press.
Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.