User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Making MAKEing More Inclusive

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The maker movement and maker education, in my perspective, are such great initiatives – really in line with what student-centric education should be in this era of formal and informal learning.

Maker education (often referred to as “Maker Ed”) is a new school of educational thought [at least in terms of having an “official” educational label – JG] that focuses on delivering constructivist, project-based learning curriculum and instructional units to students. Maker education spaces can be as large as full high school workshops with high-tech tools, or as small and low-tech as one corner of an elementary classroom. A makerspace isn’t just about the tools and equipment, but the sort of learning experience the space provides to students who are making projects. (9 Maker Projects for Beginner Maker Ed Teachers)

Social media has helped me gain a more global perspective and become aware of some of the problems associated with the maker movement. The two I discuss in this post are:

  1. Maker movement initiatives are often driven by more affluent white males.
  2. The maker movement is too often being associated with the tech stuff – 3D Printers, Arduinos, Littlebits, Makey-Makeys – stuff that less affluent schools and community programs can afford.

Maker movement initiatives are often driven by affluent white males.

When the language, culture, and tools of the current makerspaces, maker faires, MAKE publications are examined, they tend to be less inclusive of females, older adults, and people of color.

The Maker movement has grown large enough and influential enough that it’s time to turn a critical eye to the culture of the community, what we want it to be and what it really is,” declared Dr. Buechley. The most striking statistics Buechley shared focused on the race and gender of the Makers on its covers. Of the 40 people featured, she found that 85% have been men and boys–and none were people of color. The current editorial staff has a similar ratio–87% men, and also no people of color. “Are you serious!? MAKE, you can do better. It’s your responsibility to do better,” Buechley exclaimed. (Watch Dr. Buechley’s talk at The notion that one does not need to talk about gender, race, sexual orientation, class, etc. because what matters is how well you can hack largely disregards privileges that people have in society and constitutes part of the explanation for why there are so few women, queers, and people of color in hackerspaces. But women aren’t the only ones who have felt marginalized and isolated at mainstream hackerspaces. Many men have also found the culture exclusionary or aggressive and are also also seeking safer spaces. (Is the Maker Movement About Hacking Society—Or Just Hardware?)

Here are some additional quotes, articles that discuss the need for a maker environment more inclusive of gender and people of color.

I know that the Maker Movement is working to be more inclusive and I challenge its leadership to do even more to include every kid in every community in its programming. I challenge each of us to support not just our own daughters and sons in Making but the girls and boys in all communities. (Welcoming All Girls in the Maker Movement: Let’s Make it Happen) Maker and hackerspaces are meant to be places to build, tinker, and fix things, but that process won’t flourish without a friendly, inclusive environment. (Is the Maker Movement About Hacking Society—Or Just Hardware?) The idea of inclusion is not only important for community organizations or schools serving underserved populations. Every makerspace should be aware of their capacity to serve all people: children and adults, all genders, all backgrounds, and those who are interested in the arts, engineering, or both. Even in the best-resourced maker environments, there should be constant vigilance about the assumptions that are made about the people who might want to use them. (Making for All: How to Build an Inclusive Makerspace)

The maker movement is too often being associated with the tech stuff – stuff that less affluent schools and community programs cannot afford.

Changing Perceptions About the Stuff

3d Printers, Ardinos, Littebits, Makey-Makeys, GoSpheros, Lillipads, . . . oh my! These technologies are seductive especially seeing all the press they get on social media, blogs, and Kickstarter.  Given all of the media coverage, an educator new to Maker Education may get the perception that it is all about this kind of high tech stuff. For less affluent schools or after-school programs, it may seem that maker education is out of their reach given budgetary restraints. A maker education program can be fully implemented with minimal cost supplies. Cardboard boxes, recycled materials such as water bottles, detergent bottles, and other plastic throwaways, tape, glue guns, scissors/knives, and markers in conjunction with learners’ imaginations, creativity, and innovative ideas can be the stuff that makerspaces are made of. Presentation2 In addition, there are lots of making resources that are inexpensive. Here is an image of the circuit kit I prepared for my week long maker camp for over a dozen kids. It cost about $100 with careful shopping via ebay and the local dollar store. It contains LEDs, batteries, alligator clips, copper tape, magnets, paper clips, and electrical tape.


Changing Perceptions about What Activities Are Considered Making

In addition, to using cheaper, fun materials, we need to expand our perceptions about what constitutes maker activities.

In an analysis of every MAKE magazine cover since the first issue in 2005–36 in all–Buechley found that the photos portrayed a “very narrow definition” of Maker activities. The themes have skewed heavily towards electronics, which have been featured on 53% of covers, followed by vehicles (31%), robots (22%), rockets (8%), and music (5%).  What’s missing, she said, are examples from the world of ceramics, costume-engineering, and weaving. She pleaded with the audience to reach out to a more diverse group of makers and include all types of kids. “You gotta do more than robots,” she said.  (MAKE’ing More Diverse Makers)

Changing Perceptions: Making Is About a Mindset and a Process Not About the Stuff

Finally, in the same vein as it’s about the pedagogy, not about the technology; making is about a mindset and the act of doing, it’s not about the high tech stuff. As I discussed in The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education:

A maker mindset involves having a can-do attitude and a growth mindset – a belief that your capabilities can be developed, improved and expanded.  It’s not just a matter of what you know, it’s a matter of taking risks and perhaps failing and learning from those failures.  It’s a matter of being open to exploring new possibilities and developing your full potential. (The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education)

If making, the maker movement, maker education is viewed as a mindset, as a process, as a way to be creative and innovative; then the types and kinds of materials don’t matter. What matters, first and foremost, is the act of making.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 20, 2015 at 11:55 pm

A Culture of Numbers, Spreadsheets, and Accountability

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Yesterday I was one of several speakers at a mini-conference sponsored by a New Mexico agency whose sole purpose is to raise the reading achievement scores of the student body of low performing skills. My piece was to present on the Growth Mindset (the interest of the agency in Growth Mindsets was due to its potential to raise test scores – e.g., see

What I was most stuck by, during this mini-conference, was the embracing of and joy in reporting the rising test scores and achievement scores of students. The two other speakers, one an administrator with that New Mexico agency and the other a principal, had slide after slide with numbers, percentages, and spreadsheets. The audience clapped and cheered at these reports, at spreadsheets with countless columns and rows of data, at images of whiteboards filled with numbers, at pictures of storage rooms filled with shelf after shelf of loose leaf binders of scripted reading program materials. I sat there feeling like an alien in this culture of tests, data, and accountability.

As I watched these presentations, several questions crossed my mind:

  • Did the initiatives help raise students’ interest in and enjoyment of reading?
  • Do the students, themselves, care that their achievement scores increased?
  • The scores of a student who went from a 3rd grade reading level to a 5th grade level was shown. Another student’s scores were shown who did not progress with reasons of why s/he did not do so (e.g., s/he was not assessed correctly in the first test). I wonder what these students would say about all of the reading interventions if they were personally asked.

I do believe that data can enhance the learning process if it is used as direct and immediate feedback to help both the educator and the learner get information about what the learner is doing well and what areas could be improved. But let’s not delude ourselves, these accountability systems have been designed by adults for adults. The students become numbers – a commodity in the adult games of NCLB, Race to the Top, and Annual Yearly Progress. Too often the individual children behind these numbers are not considered in these games centered on increasing the numbers.  My overriding question is then, “What are both short term and long term effects of this culture of testing, numbers, accountability and data on individual children?’

A recent study examined the affects of these initiatives on high poverty, low performing schools:

Anjale D. Welton, a professor of educational policy at the University of Illinois, explored how these performance mandates affected the school’s culture. During interviews, Welton and her colleagues found that the students felt “stigmatized” and “humiliated” by their school’s failing status.

Welton says her research suggests the school’s declining academic reputation also resulted in higher teacher turnover, denying students the consistent social support they need to become first-generation college students.

“This school was so focused on meeting the demands of state policy that it was unaware of the toll it was taking on the culture and climate of the school,” Welton argued. Rather than centering performance problems on students and teachers, policymakers should take into consideration the systemic inequities and larger sociopolitical contexts in which schools operate,” Williams said. “We also need to be more aware of the impact of labeling schools ‘high minority, high poverty’ and ‘low performing,’ because these descriptors convey deficit connotations.” (Teaching to the test may hinder college preparedness)

. . . and in closing, here is a quote from a favorite book of mine, The Little Prince:

Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: “What does his voice sound like?” “What games does he like best?” “Does he collect butterflies?”. They ask: “How old is he?” “How many brothers does he have?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much money does his father make?” Only then do they think they know him.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 15, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Educators Teaching Learners; Educators Teaching Educators; Learners Teaching Learners; Learners Teaching Educators

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Google has an initiative entitled Googlers Teaching Googlers:

Googler to Googler places employees from across departments into teaching roles. Classes taught Googler to Googler—everything from kickboxing to parenting— are initiated and designed by employees. Telling your employees that you want them to learn is different than asking them to promote that culture themselves. Giving employees teaching roles makes learning part of the way employees work together. It’s a remarkable thing to put someone in teaching mode. In a way, you get to see the best of them. (Here’s A Google Perk Any Company Can Imitate: Employee-To-Employee Learning)

In other words, Google has embraced the idea that their employees have valuable skills and expertise to share with other members of their community. Within many media outlets, there’s a lot of positive acknowledgement and discussion of the power of learning communities where all members of the learning community are both teachers and learners. Current thinking about communities of practice, teachers as lead learners, and networked learning support the idea of learning communities. I advocate for and practice identifying the expertise in any given learning environment and setting up the conditions for having those experts teach the rest of us that skill. The benefits are limitless. Expertise, especially in this age of information abundance, is often not determined by age. If learning communities, both formal ones such as school and informal ones such as community center classes, want to take advantage of and leverage all available resources, then they would embrace a culture where educators teach learners, educators teach other educators, learners teach learners, and learners teach educators.

Educators need to explore with people in communities how all may participate to the full. One of the implications for schools is that they must prioritize instruction that builds on children’s interests in a collaborative way. Such schools need also to be places where ‘learning activities are planned by children as well as adults, and where parents and teachers not only foster children’s learning but also learn from their own involvement with children. (Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and communities of practice)


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 8, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Becoming a Lifelong Maker: Start Young

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I was recently asked what is was about my childhood that led to me being an adult who makes and who advocates that everyone should make in one form or another.  I believe there were several childhood experiences that contributed to me becoming a lifelong maker.

  • I was born a very curious and creative kid. This was accepted by my mother who gave me the freedom to be so. My mother let me go free range. I spent lots of my out of school time with the neighborhood kids. We engaged in lots of unstructured play with no adults telling us how to play.
  • Related to my unstructured play, I was given the permission, time, resources, and support to create. One of my favorite activities for a number of years was creating a type of midway fair in my backyard out of cardboard boxes.
  • I went to a summer day camp every summer for about 10 years. The focus on the creative arts, peer and informal learning, and lots of hands-on activities helped me develop skills for being creative.
  • My mother supported my interests by allowing for and paying for interest-driven classes at a local community center. I remember taking a “how to make a radio” class. She wasn’t thrilled about my interest in this boy populated class but still let me take the class.
  • The word “failed” didn’t exist during my young age. My play, projects, making things worked or didn’t work. If it didn’t work, I either moved on to something else or tried again doing something different.

In her book, Making Makers: Makers as Children, Children as Makers, AnneMarie Thomas interviewed dozens of adult makers to find out what childhood experiences helped lead to their becoming “makers of things.” Here are some excerpts about those early childhood experiences:

When I asked what drove them as children, all three Hillises explicitly mentioned “curiosity.” Noah and Asa, twins now in their twenties, have fallen into the “take things apart” category for as long as they could remember. They recalled a time when they, as toddlers, managed to take apart their crib and, subsequently, their window’s locks.

As an elementary school student, Eric Rosen Baum he often spent long creative afternoons with a friend named Elan, who lived just up the street. They were constantly making up new games to play. Some involved chasing each other with stuffed animals, others involved running up and down the stairs or dueling with Wiffleball bats, blankets, and laundry hampers.

Steve Hoefer maintains that a childhood on a farm instilled this in him. So many of his daily tasks as a child could be summed up as “Go and do something you’ve never done before. Figure it out. Learn something. Maybe even discover a better way of doing it.” Steve recalled, “[T]here were daily events where we were told to go off and do something, usually important, given the tools and materials, and the rest we had to figure out for ourselves. And usually it worked out. And when it didn’t, it wasn’t the end of the world.”

It is not surprising, then, that making, innovating, and being creative as a child leads to being innovative as an adult.

A new study from Michigan State University found that childhood participation in arts and crafts leads to innovation, patents, and increases the odds of starting a business as an adult. If you look at the mavericks of science and technology you will see a pattern of creative outlets being a key to their childhood. Creative activity in childhood rewires your brain into think out-of-the-box according to the researchers. In fact, the group reported using artistic skills—such as analogies, playing, intuition and imagination—are all key to to solving complex problems (Childhood Creativity Leads to Innovation in Adulthood).

What follows are some suggestions about how to set up an environment where kids feel free and inspired to make:

  • Provide kids with camp-like activities.
  • Let go of expectations about the learning process and end products.
  • Allow kids to go free range.
  • Allow for and encourage unstructured play time.
  • Help kids locate human and material resources that support their creative making.
  • Normalize failure as part of the learning process; as part of everyday life.

Provide Camp-like Activities

If school were more like camp, students would spend less time sitting at a desk quietly working by themselves on a work sheet and more time practicing teamwork and collaboration, working on science projects and presentations, acting out a book they are reading, and building their creativity and problem-solving skills Students would be encouraged to delve deeply into topics that interest them, regardless of what’s on the list of standards (Why Can’t School Be More Like Camp?).

See more at a blog post I wrote – School Should Be More Like Camp.

Let Go of Expectations About the Learning Process and End Products

Too often kids are told what they need to learn, how they need to learn it, and what they need to produce. Too often, though, this overly structured education environment stifles learning. Learning occurs naturally with most kids when expectations on what and how to learn is not presented as part of the process. This freedom to learn has lots of potential rewards, not just for the learner but for the larger community.

The thrill of jumping off a cliff by deciding to do so yourself is a high you will never have if someone else pushes you off of it. In other words, the top-down, teacher-student model of learning does not maximize learning as it devours curiosity and eliminates intrinsic motivation. Students of all ages must be afforded liberties to pursue educational opportunities and approaches for learning that are appropriate for them (Manifesto 15).

Provide Time for Unstructured Play and Allow Kids to Go Free Range

Kids need to have unstructured, unscheduled time just to be kids. Play is natural to kids. If their time is always structured, they learn, sadly often at a young age, how not to play. They don’t know what to do with themselves when given any free time. They lose their sense of freestyle and joyful play. Somewhere in the evolution (or devolution) of education; parents, educators, policy makers have forgotten the value of unstructured play in promoting significant learning:

Humans have an amazing natural sense of curiosity that will lead us to learn everything we need. We’re born with a drive to explore, with imagination and curiosity and wonder, which we retain throughout our lives, if they aren’t ‘taught’ out of us. We learn from experience; in fact, we learn all the time from everything we do. We live our life by living our lives (Free Range Learning: A Dialogue).

At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons. To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play — lots and lots of it, without interference from adults. what children in our culture want to learn when they are free turns out to be skills that are valued in our culture and that lead to good jobs and satisfying lives. When they play, these students learn to read, calculate, and use computers with the same playful passion with which hunter-gatherer kids learn to hunt and gather. They don’t necessarily think of themselves as learning. They think of themselves as just playing, or ‘doing things’, but in the process they are learning.

Help kids locate human and material resources that support their creative making.

How do we as teachers, become activists who help our students form relationships and build alliances based on particular interest or issues and passions? Our role (as the adults in kids’ lives) takes a different kind of vision of what adults should do–we’re not there to tell students what to be interested in; we’re there to take their interests and help them run with it by introducing them to resources they might not have thought of (Mimi Ito in What Does “Interest-Driven” Look Like?)

Normalize Failure as Part of the Learning Process

We need to give our children more opportunities to build a relationship with failure. Children are innately risk-takers. If there is a curb, they will try to balance on it. If there is a shiny object, they will reach out for it. This is how they discover the world. Failure and risk-taking are how they learn. However, that sense of discovery and wonder is squelched in the classroom. We need to bring risk-taking back (Making Friends with Failure).

The bottom line is that if kids are given the time, opportunity, resources, and encouragement, they will do what comes naturally. They will make. If Kids What is your childhood story about why and how you become a maker? An aggregate of these stories can help educators identify and then use similar strategies in their own maker education settings.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 6, 2015 at 9:51 pm

The Maker Mentality Takes on Many Forms

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Those who follow my blog know that I have jumped into and am loving the current emphasis on the Maker Movement and Maker Education.

As I was flying back from a recent conference, I noticed a film on the screen embedded in the plane seat in front of me. I was immediately intrigued by the animated film and watch the 10 minute short animation in awe of its brilliance. No sound was needed. Upon further research, I discovered it is called “Me + Her”, a Sundance-nominated short film set in a world made entirely out of cardboard.


It is one of those artistic pieces that I find so beautiful that I want to share it with everyone; have everyone view it. The proverbial sweet icing on the cake is that it is a perfect example of the maker movement.  Stonesifer, the cinematographer in an interview posted at Joseph Oxford and Bradley Stonesifer Create a World in Cardboard for Me + Her stated:

I think the biggest thing for me that I hope gets shared about the film is the do-it-yourself mentality and the number of people who got behind this project and did it out of kindness and love of film. We made a movie that is compelling and emotional out of cardboard. It’s exciting to think that anyone has the ability to make a project out of any medium, any material.

What a perfect model/statement of the maker movement. The Maker Movement takes on many forms. I plan to show it to my students in my maker education classes to show the potential of maker-related arts.

Here is the video – a perfect 11 minutes.

Here are some additional resources if you are interested in reading more about this project:


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 22, 2015 at 12:36 am

When It Comes to Education, We Have to Stop Pretending

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Responding to Scott McLeod challenge and Steve Hargadon’s Tag: When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending. .

  • That “we” know best what students should learn; that it is okay for students to not have the freedom, time, resources to pursue their own interests and passions.
  • That it is okay to make students sit in a desk for hours and hours every day learning things they don’t want to learn in a way and a place they don’t want to learn it.
  • That it is okay to separate students from the real world – real world environments, real world people, real world problems.
  • That testing matters; that it is okay to make students take tests and assessments that have absolutely no connection to real life.
  • That it is okay for removed stakeholders to make educational decisions; that it is okay for students, parents, community members not to have a voice in their students’ educations.

Tagging Sylvia Tolisano, Barbara Bray, Terry Heick, Patrick Larkin, Eric Sheninger Please join us. When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending? Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. Feel free to also put the URL of your post in the comments area so others can find it!


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 14, 2015 at 12:38 am

Being a Growth Mindset Facilitator

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I was asked recently why I have a strong interest and innate understanding of the growth mindset. I believe it comes from a background of being an adventure educator, and even though it was not labeled as such, the adventure educator embraces a growth mindset when working with participants. The underlying tenet of adventure education is “You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine. I believe in you and your capabilities; and I will set up the conditions for you to develop and amplify that same belief in yourself.” quoteThis attitude or mindset was important given that the populations we worked with were especially at-risk: adjudicated youth youth; recovering substance abuse users; victims of domestic violence. Many had lost belief in themselves and developed a failure mindset. Our major goal was to shift that so that participants internalized a growth mindset; one that they would carry over into their everyday lives. Some of the underlying principles of adventure education that drive my process of being a Growth Mindset Facilitator include:

  • You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine.
  • I believe in you and your capabilities even if you don’t, but the ultimate goal is for you to internalize these beliefs.
  • Failure is okay but you need to stand up after you fall/fail.
  • Everyone’s unique self is valued and valuable.
  • Your peers and I will support you as you take risks; attempt new ways of being. It is up to you to decide the type of support you need.
  • Conditions will be set up for you to be challenged. It is up to you to take responsibility to embrace those challenges.
  • You can go beyond your self-perceived limits. I might push you a bit to do so because I believe you can succeed.

facilitating growth mindset

Also see The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 12, 2015 at 11:39 pm


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