Posts Tagged ‘learning’
I had the opportunity the learn about Dr. Reuven Feuerstein through Dr. Yvette Jackson at a National Urban Alliance conference almost 20 years ago. The biggest thing I took from the conference, that remains with me today, is that student potential assumes there is a limit, cap, or ceiling as to what can be learned. If students are perceived as having a propensity for learning, there is no cap. The apropos cliche becomes the sky is the limit.
Feuerstein is known for his groundbreaking work in cognitive modifiability; rejecting the idea that intelligence is fixed, he established the principle that all children can learn how to learn. (http://brainworldmagazine.com/dr-reuven-feuerstein-on-why-intelligence-is-modifiable/#sthash.xJYtEpxo.dpuf)
Dr. Feuerstein’s beliefs can be summed up in the following quotes:
Human beings have the unique characteristic of being able to modify themselves no matter how they start out. Even in born barriers and traumas can be overcome with belief and the right mediation.
What if, instead of measuring a child’s acquired knowledge and intellectual skills, the ability to learn was evaluated first? And what if intelligence was not a fixed attributed, measurable once and for all? What if intelligence can be taught and was in fact the ability to learn?” (http://www.paperbackswap.com/Reuven-Feuerstein/author/)
Most school settings focus on students’ deficiencies. If educators take the perspective that their students have a propensity for learning, then their focus becomes identifying and working with their strengths and prior knowledge. It is through accessing prior knowledge and student strengths that deficiencies can be addressed.
I work part time with gifted elementary students at two Title 1 schools where most of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches; and where they and/or their parents are learning English as a second language. What I quickly discovered about my students was that many were lacking in foundational skills in ELA and in math. Sadly, the instructional method used by way too many schools, especially those considered low performing like mine, is to give students lots of worksheets to teach such skills. I don’t like worksheets. I didn’t like them when I was an elementary student and don’t know too many elementary students who say, “I love doing worksheets.”
I have been using games in my classrooms (elementary and higher education) for decades. My use of games has included board games, team building and cooperative games, and more recently, video games. In order to help my gifted students learn some of the foundational skills, I integrate a variety of these games. This post is split into two parts:
- Personal Observations About the Use of Games for Learning
- Example Games Used to Teach and Reinforce
Personal Observations About the Use of Games for Learning
There has been a lot written about using games for learning. Research generally supports their use for learning:
Across 57 studies that compared teaching with a game to using other instructional tools, incorporating a game was more effective (SD .33). Using a game improved cognitive learning outcomes along with intrapersonal and interpersonal outcomes. Researchers looking at other collections of studies have found that games help students retain what they’ve learned.
I have written about the teacher as an ethnographer and the teacher as a reflective practitioner. In line with these beliefs, I have made my own personal observations about using games with gifted elementary students at low performing schools.
The Desire to Win is a Motivator
One of the biggest draw in the use of games is that students want to build their skills in order to win the game. Most, if not all, of my students embrace and engage in competitive games with the goal of winning. The need to win is a strong motivator; and to win they need to develop those skills. Even in group team building and cooperative learning, learning basic skills in order to be successful is a great motivator for learning basic skills. The same can’t be said of worksheets. The major reward for completing a worksheet is a grade from the teacher. For many students, this type of reward is not all that motivating.
A Sense of Fun and Play
When games are used for learning, excitement and joy become part of the learning process. My learners’ excitement is seen with their squeals of joy, big smiles on their faces, and jumping out of their seats when they succeed in the games. Doing worksheets is not fun and they do not elicit playful responses. They is limited joy in learning through worksheets.
Learning Doesn’t Feel Contrived, Pushed, nor Painful
Most children play games and many adults do so, too. Games seem to be part of human existence. Thus, when games are introduced into the learning environment, they feel natural to the learners. On the other hand, worksheets are not part of learners’ lives outside of the classroom. This translates into worksheets feeling contrived and pushed. Doing worksheets is often painful for the learners.
Noise is Expected
Games often include vocal elements. Learner voices and noise are expected and accepted when games are played. The opposite is true for doing worksheets. The expectation is that there is silence in the classroom while students work through their worksheets.
Increased and Engaging Repetition of Concepts
In general, repetition is needed to gain and remember basic skills. Usually this occurs through memorizing and repeating core skills. Games often offer the repetition of basic skills in a fun way as learners work towards completing the game challenges. Doing multiple worksheets can provide the repetition but not the engagement.
Learners Spontaneously Help One Another
Even in games that ask learners compete (see the second part of this post for examples), they often help one another out when one of their peers get stuck. This type of peer assistance is not promoted, may even be seen as cheating when students are completing worksheets.
Natural, Immediate, and Continual Formative Assessment
Most games offer continual feedback on learners’ performances. Games provide immediate feedback about the degree of success with a challenge as this function is built into the game mechanics. The same is not true for worksheets. The teacher is the one who often reviews and grades the worksheet. Feedback does not tend to be immediate nor continual with the use of worksheets.
The above characteristics equal increased engagement, and increased engagement often means increased learning. I have to wonder if one of the reasons my learners didn’t develop foundational skills is that they weren’t engaged in their learning processes; that they just went through the motions of doing the worksheets.
Examples Games Used to Teach and Reinforce Basic Skills
In this game, students were separated into two groups. A pile of several sets of Alphabet bean bags were placed about 25 yards from the starting line. In a relay type game, group members ran one a time to pick up and bring back to the starting line one bean bag at a time. The relay continued until all of the bean bags were picked up.
The groups were then asked to create as many words as they could using the letters they collected. Letters could be reused after a word was created. Point values were: one point for words of 2 to 4 letters; two points for words with 5 to 9 letters; and 3 points for words with 10 letters or more.
Words with Friends
I created a class account with Words with Friends EDU:
The success of this game was better than I expected. The learners had never heard of nor played Scrabble so I was excited to see their level of engagement. They loved challenging one another; learning how the point values worked; and exploring the power words and their definitions.
Basic Number Sense
Similar to the word fluency games, I have been using a variety of both analog and digital games to increase my learners’ knowledge and skill with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and divisions.
Some of the analog math games I’ve used include”
- Sumoku – http://www.blueorangegames.com/index.php/games/sumoku
- Equate: The Equation Thinking Game – http://www.playequate.com/equate/
- Tri-Facta – http://www.hand2mind.com/item/trifacta-multiplication-division-game/7173
- Games with Playing Cards and Dominoes – http://www.education.com/activity/fourth-grade/math/
Some of the digital games I’ve used include:
- Prodigy Math Game – https://prodigygame.com/
Parting Shot: One of my gifted students yelled out this week during class (I meet with one group for a half a day and the other for a full day): I love coming to my gifted class. It is so much more fun than learning. On one hand, I was happy to hear how much he enjoys the class. On the other hand, I was saddened that: (1) he didn’t see our fun activities as learning, and (2) his regular classroom lacked such fun.
I am in the unique position of having several types of education jobs. I teach online graduate courses in educational technology to in-service teachers. I am a cohort facilitator for student teachers; and I am a part-time gifted teacher of elementary students at two different elementary schools that serve Kindergarten through 6th grade students. Out of the 16 elementary schools in my town, these two schools have some of the lowest end-of-year standardized test scores in the entire district; are composed of 85% to 90% Hispanic students; have a high percentage of English Language Learners; and all students on free or reduced lunch. These statistics present a dire picture, don’t they?
I tell my student teachers that when they enter new schools for possible employment, they should be able to see and feel the culture of the school almost immediately upon entering the front doors. Because of this belief, I decided to do a photo essay of the artifacts found on the hallway walls at the schools where I teach:
Because of the variety of my jobs as well as being an active reader and contributor to social media, I do a lot of thinking and reading about the qualities of high performing schools. Again, the data shows that I work at very low performing schools, but how are intangibles measured? How are the following characteristics, which I see, hear, and feel at both of my schools, measured and quantified?
- A positive school climate
- A safe school climate
- Dedicated teachers who love teaching and their students
- Creative teachers
- Students enjoyment of being at school and in learning
- Student creativity and imagination
- Lots of laughing and smiling students
- The arts naturally integrated into content area learning
- School walls filled with beautiful student artifacts
I wholeheartedly believe I am teaching in high performing schools.
Archaic Ways of Teaching Grammar
We construct grammatically correct sentences or correct our mistakes by intuitively applying the rules that govern English syntax. If, instead, we had to apply those rules consciously, they would only get in our way, making it impossible for us to speak or write at all. To construct a simple two-word sentence, such as “He dreams,” requires the application of at least seven grammar rules. Imagine trying to apply them consciously following the rules of English grammar.
Over the years, the teaching of grammar has continued to be prominent in English and foreign language instruction, leaving less class time or student energy for students to speak, read, or write in those languages. As early as 1906, studies were undertaken that attempted to show the relationship between knowledge of school-taught grammar and language skills. Since then, hundreds of such studies have produced some clear and unequivocal conclusions: The teaching of formal grammar does not help a student’s ability to speak, to write, to think, or to learn languages.
It is important for educators to know that, among recent research studies, not one justifies teaching grammar to help students write better. Although we accept the fact that social, economic, and political forces influence education in many areas, we ought not to allow such forces to outweigh knowledge and reason in determining the school curriculum. (Is Teaching Grammar Necessary?)
Learning Needs a Context
I often discuss and blog about teaching content within a context, that learning needs a context. . .
How often have students been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts; get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?
The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts including memorizing grammar rules.
The key to increased understanding is providing a context for the facts and the rules. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts and rules. This is especially true for abstract concepts such as grammar rules. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.
Providing a Context for Grammar Instruction
I teach gifted elementary level classes with a good portion of the students being English Language Learners. This translates into ELA grammar making even less sense for them than for English only learners. I do a lot of maker education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and STEAM (adding arts to it) activities with them, and ask them to document their learning through taking photos and blogging about those activities using their Chromebooks. Because of the article about grammar and talking with the school’s literacy coach, I decided to bring grammar-in-context into my classrooms. How I’ve done this is through projecting individual blog posts onto the Smartboard. The writer of the blog opens his or her blog post in an editing mode. Another learner reads the blog post out loud. The rest of the learners make suggestions for improvement as it is read out loud. I help guide them asking questions like:
- Does that sound right?
- Is that the correct verb for that noun?
- What tense should that verb be?
- What type of punctuation in the different pauses?
- Is that spelling correct?
- Is that possessive? If so, what is the punctuation?
. . . and again, these questions and the suggested edits are done in the context of the individual learners’ blog posts that have already been composed.
Here is an example of one such blog prior to editing:
. . . and here is the edited version:
It is not perfect but, as can be seen, is much better.
Some of my observations from this process that I noted includes:
- Learners eagerly volunteer to have their blog posts reviewed. First, they really enjoy having their posts read out loud. Second, I believe this is also due to the focus being on improving their means to communicate better not for a grade.
- The learners know that their blogs are viewed by their own classmates and their sister school (I teach gifted education at two schools and have opened my Kidblog to both schools to view one another’s posts). They have authentic audiences and what to present their best selves.
- As it becomes a group exercise, the other class members seem to enjoy the challenge and become engaged in offering corrections and improvements.
- To keep up the motivation and make it manageable, I only do 2 or 3 during any giving sitting.
I believe in the importance of participating in ongoing and continuous reflective practice as an educator. This is my reflection on my Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp that was taught to twelve 5 to 10 year old learners for five days, 2.5 hours each morning. My Cardboard Challenges webpage of ideas can be found at http://www.makereducation.com/cardboard-challenge.html.
This post is divided into three sections: (1) a rationale for using no tech, minimal cost materials, (2) some of my general observations about how the learners interacted with the materials, the projects, and each other during the camp, and (3) a description of the specific cardboard activities along with my observations how well they worked with the learners.
A Rational for Using No Tech, Minimal Cost Materials
The Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp utilized no technology (except for projecting images of example projects on the whiteboard) and low/no cost materials. Many of the discussions about and actions related to integrating maker education into educational environments center around the use of new technologies such computer components (Raspberry Pis, Arduinos), interactive robots for kids (Dash and Dot, Ozobots, Spheros), and 3D printers. These technologies are lots of fun and one of my maker education camps this past summer was Bots and Coding. The learners engaged in these learning activities with high excitement and motivation. Such high excitement, engagement and motivation, though, were also seen at my low tech/low cost maker education camps: LED crafts, Toy Hacking and Making, and Cardboard Challenges.
As a recent NPR article discussed several challenges for maker education. One of them was related to equity issues, providing maker education for all students regardless of income level:
A big challenge for maker education: making it not just the purview mostly of middle- and upper-middle-class white kids and white teachers whose schools can afford laser cutters, drones or 3-D printers (3 Challenges As Hands-On, DIY Culture Moves Into Schools).
In order to adequately address this challenge, it becomes important to speak of making in broader terms; that maker education is so much more than 3D printing, drones, and robots. As Adam Savage from Mythbusters notes:
What is making? It is a term for an old thing, it is a new term for an old thing. Let me be really clear, making is not simply 3D printing, Art Lino, Raspberry Pi, LEDs, robots, laser and vinyl cutters. It’s not simply carpentry and welding and sculpting and duct tape and drones. Making is also writing and dance and filmmaking and singing and photography and cosplay. Every single time you make something from you that didn’t exist in the world, you are making. Making is important; it’s empowering. It is invigorating (Adam Savage’s 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire Talk).
Doing and promoting maker experiences such as cardboard projects have the potential to offset the challenges associated with access and costs as well as provide opportunities for making by all.
General Observations from the Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp: How the Learners Interacted with the Materials, Projects, and Each Other
Going with Learners’ Energy and Ideas
During the making activities, I had one learner who often generated ideas for extending the projects we were doing. For example, when we made jet packs (see below), he asked for permission and made a space helmet to go with it. When we made small robots (see below), he proposed making a cardboard house for his robot. The other learners loved his ideas and joined him in these extensions of the make projects. I believe it is important to follow learners’ leads and ideas as it creates energy, motivation, and momentum for learning. Traditional teaching is way too often focused on keeping to an agenda both in time and with the learning activities. I think it is important to grab onto those teachable moments; the moments when learners propose what direction they would like to go. It validates that their voices as students are valued and acted upon.
The Experiential Nature of Maker Activities Makes Them Messy, Loud, and Chaotic
Traditional classrooms are often marked by students quietly at their desks completing the same tasks at the same time. This is opposite of what went on during the Cardboard Challenges Maker Education camp. The classroom was loud, seemingly chaotic and messy. Cutting and working with cardboard creates a mess, but authentic and engaged learning is often messy.
Learning is often a messy business. “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy! But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (http://www.learningismessy.com/quotes/)
This description marked what occurred during all of the five days of the Cardboard Challenges camp and I believe lots of learning resulted.
Concepts and Skills Naturally Embedded in the Experiential Activities
Concepts and skills became embedded in the experiential activities. Learning of concepts and skills occurred at the time when the campers’ interest and need were the highest. For example, when the learners did the cardboard garages and ramps for toy cars, several concepts were introduced and talked about: inclined plane, angles, rate of acceleration, and weight and density. These discussions and knowledge helped them to better their design their ramps. Their learning had a context and a reason.
The same was true for the the learning of skills. Learners were motivated and attentive when I demonstrated certain cardboard folding and connecting techniques. This also included soft skills such as communicating needs, asking for what they needed, and collaborating with others as they found a genuine need and desire to use them.
Shared and Collaborative Learning: Natural and As Needed
Research supports the use of collaborative and shared learning. The best kind of collaborative and shared learning, I believe, is when it occurs naturally and when needed (similar to the learning of skills as discussed above). Shared learning was evident when the learners created space helmets after one learner started his; when the youngest learner, a 5 year old girl, showed others how to use the shelf contact paper correctly (also demonstrating that learners of all ages and genders had something to contribute to the learning community). Collaborative learning happened when the learners began to individually create their car garages and ramps, and realized that if they combined their creations, they would have cooler and more elaborated structures.
Semi Structured Projects with Simple Photographic Examples Work Well
This elementary age group seemed to respond well to semi-structured cardboard projects. For all of the cardboard challenge activities, I only needed to show the learners a few examples projected on the whiteboard. From these examples, the learners gathered enough information and were able to take off to construct their own modifications of the projects. The cardboard projects became personal as the campers became self-directed learners.
Assumptions About Skill Levels
The educator needs to be an astute observer of how learners interact with instructional materials, and make adjustments if problems arise. How this translated into the cardboard challenge is that I assumed the learners could use transparent tape, hot glue guns, and scissors. I knew the younger ones, the Kindergarten students, would have some problems but didn’t expect this of the older ones, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. I observed the learners as they interacted with the cardboard constructing tools. I had transparent tape in the disposable plastic dispensers. Most of the campers had trouble getting it off. I realized that the heavy duty tape dispensers worked better and switched to using those. I used hot glue guns with elementary level kids for years but this group had an especially difficult time using them resulting in minor burns by 3/4 of the learners. I was forced to ban them half way through the week. I needed to change the use of hot glue to duct tape and cardboard screws from the Makedo kits. These may seem like small or inconsequential things but insuring that the learners can effectively use the tools and materials can make the difference in their success with the projects.
Cardboard Challenges: Descriptions and Reflections
This section provides brief descriptions of the activities I did during this camp and my reflections on their degree of success with the learners.
Directions for constructing the jet packs can be found at http://www.kiwicrate.com/projects/Recycled-Jet-Pack-Costume/500 . I spray painted them silver prior to the camp but the kids constructed the rest of their jet packs.
This was a great way to start off the week. All of the learners seemed to enjoy creating them and adding their own personal touches. One of the learners, a 10 year old boy, asked if he could use another box to create a space helmet. I said, “Of course,” and the other learners began to follow their lead (which led me to spray painting the helmets during their recess). I would definitely do this activity again and would facilitate extensions of the activity such as, “Is there anything else you’d like to create to go with your jet pack?’
Directions for a Marble Run can be found http://lemonlimeadventures.com/recycled-marble-run/.
The Marble Run was another very engaging and successful activity. The learners worked on different methods and materials to make the marble run. There were lots of iterations of this project but all the learners were successful in getting their marbles to drop from tube to tube.
I would definitely do this activity again. I would add, though, sketching the marble run designs and patterns on a piece of paper and then on their large pieces of cardboards prior to adding the tubes and other obstacles. I had marbles and small balls available to test the runs but would include additional types of small balls in the future.
Directions for building a version of this can be found at http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/10/14/how-to-make-a-cardboard-box-marble-labyrinth-game/
This seemed to be another highly engaging activity. I would do this again in the future. I would just include more options to create the maze – e.g., construction paper, cubs, toilet paper tubes – as some of the learners had trouble managing and building the walls out of cardboard.
Cardboard Roll Robot
A version of this project can be found at http://gluesticksgumdrops.com/robot-toilet-paper-roll-craft/. I added the vending machine bubbles for use for heads and feet; and LED lights to light up the head.
I believe the learners found this fun but not overwhelming so. What added to this activity was a learner who asked if he could make a cardboard house for his bot with the other learners then following his lead.
This activity was okay – engaging but not highly engaging. I would do it again as an auxiliary to another activity – e.g., being the characters for a cardboard city.
Basketball Hoop/Ring Toss
I obtained boxes and figured out how to fold them to create a type of basketball arcade game and added the triangle in the front (based off of http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/boxescardboardboxesartscraftstideasprojectskids.html). I used pool dive rings so the learners can use the ring as both a basketball hoop and a ring toss. After its completion, the learners painted their boxes with poster paint.
Since this was a sports – arcade type of project, I expected high interest and high engagement. The most fun, I believe, was when they painted their games. They didn’t seem to have much interest in playing the game. This also might be that this project had the least wiggle room for personalization. I will probably not include this activity for future cardboard challenges.
Parking Garages and Ramps for Toy Cars
For example directions for the cardboard parking garage, see http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/02/03/cardboard-box-hot-wheels-car-garage-ramps/. For example directions for car ramps, see http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1023689/diy-race-car-track-crafts-for-kids.
The learners really jumped into this project. Anything with hot wheel type cars, I believe, are attractive for elementary students. I offered an option to build a zoo to take into account the girls and any boys who wanted such an option. Only one of the three girls at this camp selected the zoo option.
This was a very high interest and engagement activity which is what I expected. What I didn’t expect was how several of the learners ended up joining their structures to create bigger structures. I found that with projects that include buildings and other city structures, the elementary level kids naturally join them together resulting in collaborative work. This also happened during my LED craft camp.
I would definitely do this activity again. In the future, though, I would intentionally build in connecting structures together as a group.
Directions for very similar Pinball Machines can be found at http://www.instructables.com/id/Makedo-Pinball-Machine/ and http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/kidscraftsactivitiesblog/2011/02/how-to-make-simple-pinball-machine-with-recycled-materials-crafts-project-for-kids/. To prepare for this activity, I cut the boxes as can be seen the picture below. To the plans, I added the use of shelf contact paper to cover the pinball cardboard face.
This was also a high engagement activity, but parts of creating the pinball machine were difficult for most of the learners, e.g., adding flippers. One of the highlights for learners, I believe, was the use of the Makedo kits. First, the screws take the place of adhesives such as hot glue, tape, etc., and second, the learners got the chance to use and learn how to use simple tools: saw, screw driver, screws. Both the kids and I loved these kits and I would use them again for the cardboard challenges.
We worked on the pinball machines for about 3 hours and only two of the learners were able to add their pinball flippers. I would do this activity again but would spend more time preparing the boxes ahead of time. I would cut the holes for the flippers, ball catchers, and as I spent a lot of time doing this during the activity. I would also plan for more time to put the finishing touches on them.
Originally published at http://blog.iat.com/2015/09/30/a-perfect-storm-for-maker-education/.
Perfect Storm: an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.
The maker movement, as we know, is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers, a convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in–China merchandise. (Why the Maker Movement Is Important to America’s Future)
A movement made up of hobbyists, tinkerers, crafters and innovators is getting ready to change what you thought you knew about the American economy. They’re teaching a new generation how to repair rather than replace, and if what they’re looking for is not available, to invent it. They call themselves “makers,” and they will figure out how to build whatever you can imagine. (The Maker Movement Is About the Economy, Stupid)
There currently exists the conditions for a perfect storm for maker education due to:
- The Do It Yourself (DIY) Movement
- Focus on STEM and STEAM Education
- Information Access and Information Abundance
- Affordable Maker Technologies
- Crowdsourcing and Participatory Culture
- Open Source Resources
The Do It Yourself (DIY) Movement
Do It Yourself, or DIY, is a term that is used by various communities of practice that focus on people creating things for themselves without the aid of a paid professional. embers of these subcultures strive to blur the lines between creator and consumer by constructing a social network that ties users and makers close together. The phrase Do It Yourself along with its acronym is also commonly used where a layman endeavors to complete a project without the physical aid of a paid professional. http://18.104.22.168/library/D.I.Y.
What this means for young people is that they are growing up in DIY cultures, where they have role models who engage in DIY and where they have 24-7 access to information and technological resources. For example, younger makers can turn to DIY, a safe online community for kids to discover and learn new skills. Older makers can use Make: DIY Projects for inspiration, ideas, and how-tos.
Focus on STEM and STEAM Education
One of President Obama’s initiatives has been a call to action for making STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education a priority in the United States. He emphasized the need to broaden participation to those groups who typically do not engage in STEM initiatives:
President Obama knows that we simply cannot, as a Nation, expect to maintain our run of ingenuity and innovation—we cannot maintain that stream of new and different ideas—if we do not broaden participation in STEM to all Americans, including women and girls and minorities. (Educate to Innovate)
Some professionals and practitioners are expanding STEM education to include the arts which translates in STEAM education.
In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century. (STEM to STEAM)
Maker education can be a gateway to STEM involvement by students who may not have had interest in the science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines in the past.
At a time when many people are asking how we can get more students interested in STEM fields, we are hearing from teachers who have found making to be a great way to get students excited and engaged in their classrooms. We are seeing making occurring in subject classes such as math or science — in classes specifically listed as maker classes — and in a variety of less formal settings such as clubs and study halls. Many of these projects incorporate a variety of STEM topics. Students working on designing and building furniture for their classroom use algebra and geometry to figure out the dimensions. E-textiles and soft circuitry, in which circuits are sewn using conductive thread or fabric, have shown to be an engaging way to teach electronics and programming, especially for young women. The possibilities for ways to incorporate making into the school day are endless, and it is exciting to see what teachers have been developing and sharing. (Engaging Students in the STEM Classroom Through “Making”)
Information Access and Abundance
We are living in one of the most exciting times in the history of humankind. Our world in now filled with information abundance, surplus, and access. The result is synergy whereby the human mind plus our current technologies far exceed the sum of these individual parts. We have technologies to access any type of information and to create products that match the pictures and voices in our minds; and we can use technology to get the assistance and feedback from folks around the globe. (Information Abundance and Its Implications for Education)
Anyone with access to the Internet has access to all kinds of information, resources, and tutorials. Young people are used to going online to find information and how-to tutorials via YouTube, Wikipedia, and their social networks. Young makers have taken advantage of this easy and free access information to make valuable contributions to our world. For example, Jack Andraka, who as a High School sophomore, discovered a test for pancreatic cancer through reading science research he found online. Katherine Wu, a ninth-grader, invented “the driver’s companion,” a device that could monitor drivers’ blinks and brain waves to see if they were in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. She studied neuroscience to find out how to identify signs of sleepiness, took an online course to learn how to create the computer code that would recognize those signs. (Local teens’ inventions impress scientists)
Affordable Maker Technologies
Accessibility of affordable maker technologies (e.g., 3D Printers, DIY computer devices) is due, in part to the democratization of these technologies.
When something is democratized it means that it is accessible to everyone. When used in the context of the maker movement, ‘democratization’ refers to the decreasing cost of the tools and technologies credited with spurring the movement. The cost of 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and 3D scanners has dramatically decreased over the past five years. (Democratized tools of production: New technologies spurring the maker movement)
Today, the availability of affordable constructive technology and the ability to share online has fueled the latest evolutionary spurt in this facet of human development. New tools that enable hands-on learning — 3D printers, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computers, e-textiles, “smart” materials and new programming languages — are giving individuals the power to invent. (The maker movement: A learning revolution)
Maker technologies such as Makey-Makey, littleBits, Arduinos, 3D Printers, and robotics kits provide opportunities for learners to experiment and invent for themselves. They are accessible and usable by a wide range of skill and age levels; and even though there is a cost attached to them, they are more accessible to those with less financial means than similar technologies had been in the past. There does, though, need to be a continued dialogue and proactive efforts to create a maker culture of accessibility.
If the rise of the maker movement and these new tools for democratized production are going to create opportunity, how do we ensure that all people truly have access and training? It is essential to understand and address the social structures and identity categories that are inherent in the maker movement before the tools of production that play such a prominent role are truly democratized. (Democratized tools of production: New technologies spurring the maker movement)
If one of the characteristics of the maker movement is democratization of related tools, software, and techniques, then efforts need to focus on the education institutions that serve children (school, libraries, museums, after-school programs) especially underrepresented and underserved children. We need to insure that there is little or no gap between those of means and those with little means when it comes to maker education. Dr. David A. Williams (SVP of Program, Training & Youth Development at Boys and Girls Club of America) has tackled this head-on at BGCA (Tackling the Digital Divide & Closing the Opportunity Gap in STEM Education) and so has Congressman Joe Kennedy in Boston (Do Politicians Really Care About STEM Education?).
Crowdsourcing and Participatory Culture
The maker movement and makerspaces are that they are driven by principles of crowdsourcing and participatory cultures. Makers, as a group, freely share their makes so others can replicate and/or improve upon them.
Many maker movement initiatives are rooted in the idea of a “Participatory Culture,” a term coined by American media scholar Henry Jenkins. Henry Jenkins recognizes the key elements of a participatory culture to include low barriers to expression and engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. (Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School By Laura Fleming)
And as Dale Dougherty ( , considered by many as the father of the maker movement, stated in the Maker Mindset:
The Maker Movement is spurred by [….] the increasing participation of all kinds of people in interconnected communities, defined by interests and skills online as well as hyper-local efforts to convene those who share common goals. (Dougherty, The Maker Mindset, 2013)
Whenever you design a tool that allows people to be creative, there are people who will start to be creative with the tool. Once we made that available, people are now responding and creating. So it’s not so much that we’ve become a world of people who do hardware hacking, but, I guess, a world where people are becoming more involved in the creation of products. (Arduino’s Massimo Banzi: How We Helped Make The Maker Movement)
Related to crowdsourcing is crowdfunding which, as it implies, is asking the public to fund some worthwhile causes. Crowdfunding sites like Donors Choose can help educators get maker materials for their classrooms, increasing the chances that underfunded classrooms can get the tools and materials related to the maker movement.
Open Source Resources
Open source software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. Open source software is made by many people, and distributed under licenses that comply with the Open Source Definition.
Makers often share their “makes” so other can reproduce them and/or improve upon them. For example, Markerbot’s Thingiverse is probably one of the biggest online repositories of open source 3D designs. A quick perusal of the website shows designs everything from prosthetic devices to footwear to toys.
The sharing culture that marks the maker movement carries over into maker technology companies in that they often make their software and hardware open source. Popular educational maker hardware such as Arduinos and lillteBits are open source:
Open-source hardware shares much of the principles and approach of free and open-source software. In particular, we believe that people should be able to study our hardware to understand how it works, make changes to it, and share those changes. To facilitate this, we release all of the original design files (Eagle CAD) for the Arduino hardware. These files are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which allows for both personal and commercial derivative works, as long as they credit Arduino and release their designs under the same license. (Arduinos FAQ)
littleBits has the following to say about developing open source hardware:
Open Source Hardware means that we make the design files available for the circuit designs in our modules pursuant to the CERN Open Hardware License Version 1.2. It makes sense for us because littleBits products are a teaching tool: sharing our designs allows for the possibility of teaching how these circuit designs work down to a circuit level. (What does Open Source mean?)
The bottom line is that educators both in formal and informal settings would be foolish not to take advantage of this perfect storm of maker education resources, tools, and strategies that currently exist.