User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

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The Educator as a Maker Educator: the eBook

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makered bookcover

I compiled all of my blog posts about Maker Education into an ebook that I published via Amazon Kindle. The price is $3.99.  It can be accessed at http://www.amazon.com/Educator-as-Maker-ebook/dp/B016Z5NZ6O/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

The pieces include theoretical ideas, informal research-observations, ideas related to the educator as a maker educator, the maker education process, suggestions for implementation, and reflecting on the making process. Graphics and infographics created to support the chapter content are included.

The Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • The Perfect Storm for Maker Education
  • Is It Project-Based Learning, Maker Education or Just Projects?
  • Maker Education and Experiential Education
  • MAKE STEAM: Giving Maker Education Some Context
  • The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education
  • Becoming a Lifelong Maker: Start Young
  • Making and Innovation: Balancing Skills-Development, Scaffolding, and Free Play
  • Let Children’s Play (with Technology) Be Their Work in Education
  • Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology
  • Educator as a Maker Educator
  • Educator as Lead Learner
  • Promises to My Learners as a Maker Educator
  • The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Tinkering and Maker Education
  • Maker Education: Inclusive, Engaging, Self-Differentiating
  • Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM
  • Stages of Being a Maker Learner
  • Making MAKEing More Inclusive
  • Example Lesson:  Maker Education Meets the Writers’ Workshop
  • Reflecting on the Making Process

 

Learning at school? What’s wrong with this picture?

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What does learning look like in school environments? What is wrong with the following pictures?

Mohamed, a self-assured kid with thick-framed glasses and a serious expression, had just started at MacArthur High School a few weeks ago. The Irving, Tex., ninth-grader has a talent for tinkering — he constructs his own radios and once built a Bluetooth speaker as a gift for his friend — and he wanted to show his new teachers what he could do. So on Sunday night, he quickly put together a homemade digital clock (“just something small,” as he casually put it to the Dallas Morning News: a circuit board and power supply connected to a digital display) and proudly offered it to his engineering teacher the next day. “They took me to a room filled with five officers in which they interrogated me and searched through my stuff and took my tablet and my invention,” the teen said. “They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’ I told them no, I was trying to make a clock. “I really don’t think it’s fair because I brought something to school that wasn’t a threat to anyone,” Mohamed said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I just showed my teachers something, and I end up being arrested later that day.” (‘They thought it was a bomb’: 9th-grader arrested after bringing a home-built clock to school.)

. . . and in 2013, Kiera Wilmot, a Black, Female student, was arrested for her science experiment:

16-year-old Kiera Wilmot became curious after a friend told her about a reaction that would happen if she mixed hydrochloric acid and aluminum. In a small water bottle, she mixed toilet bowl cleaner with aluminum foil–a bang, a blown bottle top, and a small puff of smoke came out of the reaction. Hundreds of videos of similar experiments appear on YouTube. Shortly after the incident, the school’s assistant principal questioned Wilmot’s science teacher who said he didn’t know anything about the experiment. Then the assistant principal called the police. Despite her intellectual thirst for scientific knowledge, Kiera didn’t receive a pat on the back for her curiosity nor did she receive a warning not to try this again on the school campus unless under the supervision of her science teacher. No people were physically harmed and no property was damaged during the incident. But Kiera was expelled from Bartow High School and slapped with two felony charges – possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device. (Kiera Wilmot, 16, Arrested at School after Failed Science Experiment)

. . . and Paris Gray, a Black, model student, was about to graduate:

Paris Gray, upstanding vice president of her about-to-graduate high-school class in Jonesboro, Georgia, when administrators figured out what her yearbook quote meant. It read: When the going gets tough, just remember to Barium, Carbon, Potassium, Thorium, Astatine, Arsenic, Sulfur, Uranium, Phosphorus translated to when the going gets tough, just remember to [Ba][C][K] [Th][At] [As][S] [U][P]. “Basically, it was me just saying start all over again,” she said. Administrators barred Gray from participating in a senior walk on Friday, Willis reported. She was also supposed to speak at the upcoming graduation ceremony, but Gray said an assistant principal told her that was off. “It just completely destroyed me,” Gray said, “and my mom’s been telling me don’t let it ruin my happiness, but it’s, like, really taking a big toll.” (The Chemistry Joke That Got a Student Suspended)

. . . and although less dramatic, harmful, and painful, there was this from the brilliant Jack Andraka, when at 15 he discovered a test for pancreatic cancer:

And, so, I’m really fascinated by carbon nanotubes. I was reading this really interesting paper in biology class, and all of the sudden, we were learning about these new things called antibodies.  So then I though, in my biology class, I was just sitting there behind my desk looking at this little paper, I thought, “What if I put this antibody in a network of carbon nanotubes?” just wildly, on a whim. And then it hit me. Amazing. I was very very happy. My biology teacher wasn’t as happy when she found me reading a paper instead of writing an essay on biology class. (Detecting Pancreatic Cancer… at 15)

I have said and will continue to say that the biggest ethical travesty of our times is “teaching” the spirit and passion out of a learner.

ted_schoolskillcreativity-800x332http://sunnibrown.com/doodlerevolution/showcase/ted-schools-kill-creativity/

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 16, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Posted in Education

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Stages of Being a Maker Learner

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So what is making? I’ve proposed that the heart of making is creating new and unique things. I also realize that in order for this type of making to occur, there needs to be some scaffolding so that maker learners can develop a foundation of knowledge and skills. The end result, though should be maker learners creating new things by and for themselves. The ideas in this post have been sparked by the SAMR model. I see a similar pattern or progression with maker education:

  • Copy – make something almost exactly as someone else has done.

In this age of information abundance, there really is an unlimited number of DIY resources, tutorials, Youtube videos, online instructors and instructions on making all kind of things. These resources provide a good beginning for acquiring some solid foundational skills and knowledge for learning how a make something one has never made before.

  • Advance – gain more advance knowledge and skills by doing similar projects

During this stage, the maker learner, who desires to learn more about a given skill, project, or product, gains more advanced skills and knowledge by exploring additional and more advanced resources and by using these resources to create more advanced makes.

  • Embellish – add something that has been done; add a little of one’s self to it.

When embellishing, maker learners extend their copied projects to include their own ideas. They tailor the copied projects to include their own ideas or embellishments. Example embellishments can be found with 3D printing, Makey-Makey, and littleBits adaptations.

  • Modify – take what others have done and modify or morph it into something new.

When modifying, maker learners take something that has been created before and tweak it to make something new. An example is the cardboard challenge where kids who were inspired by Caine’s Arcade build their own cardboard creations.

  • Create – make or create some new, unique, different than what has been created before

When creating, maker learners create some unique or new. A simple example is when kids (and adults) take apart toys and use those parts to create new kinds of toys. A more complex example was the first folks who created prosthetic arms for 3-D printers.

Getting to Create stage will not occur for everyone but the Create doesn’t have to be that unique or earth shattering. It just means making something – anything more different or unique than what has been made before. I do believe, though, that maker learners need to get beyond the Copy and Advance stages to add something of themselves to their makes. I believe this is what true making is all about.

makeredmodel

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 28, 2015 at 3:27 am

Show Learners the Possibilities . . . And Then Get Out of the Way

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We are living in an age of advanced user-driven technologies, information abundance, and networked, participatory learning. It should logically follow, then, that education should take advantage of these amazing developments. As many of us in education know, it has not. This theme has permeated many of my blog posts:

Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used a metaphor of how education should also be moving, developing, and evolving from Education 1.0 towards that of an Education 3.0. The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies throughout the globe. The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being; and people influence the development and content of the web. The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior. Logically, then, we would expect that schools would follow suit in matching what is happening via the Internet to assist children and youth to function, learn, work, and play in a healthy, interactive, and pro-social manner in their societies-at-large. This, sadly, is more often than not the case. Many educators are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0

Learner Agency, Technology, and Emotional Intelligence

The notion of agency as contributing to cognitive processes involved in learning comes primarily from the Piagetian notion of constructivism where knowledge is seen as “constructed” through a process of taking actions in one’s environment and making adjustments to existing knowledge structures based on the outcome of those actions. The implication is that the most transformative learning experiences will be those that are directed by the learner’s own endeavors and curiosities. (Lindgren & McDaniel, 2012)

All of this is fresh in my mind as I just completed four weeks of summer camp teaching maker education and photo-video apps to 5 to 10 year olds. This teaching experience reinforced for me that educators can be tour guides of learning possibilities; showing learners the possibilities, then getting out of the way.

Facilitating the Process

The following section describes some of the conditions in the learning environment that support the educator as being the tour guide of learning possibilities and then handing over the responsibility for learning to the learners. Educators still take on a very active role in the learning environment, but learning is driven by the actions of the learners not those of the educator.

Expectations for Self-Directed Learning

In a learning environment that stresses self-directed learning, the educator conveys the attitude that learners are capable of being masters of their own learning.

In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18)

In line with showing learners the possibilities and getting out of the way, the educator needs to take a back seat role in the learning process. Learners may not, often will not, do things the way the educator might, but the educator respects and supports this process in a self-determined learning environment.

Educator as an Observer

If educators want to know how learners learn, then they need to observe them learning under their on terms, with tools and techniques they use naturally.  Too often adults assume they know how children and young people learn, and too often they do not especially in this new age of learning. The educator in the role of tour guide of learning possibilities first, observes to discover each learner’s unique way of interacting with the world, and second, based on these observations, suggests or offers resources and strategies to further each learner’s self-directed learning process.

Educator as a Resource

The educator as a resource means that the educator becomes a coach or a mentor. Educators are the adult experts in the room. Learners will often go to the educator for assistance especially when stuck on a problem or to get feedback.

The best coaches encourage young people to work hard, keep going when it would be easier to stop, risk making potentially painful errors, try again when they stumble, and learn to love [their learning] (One to Grow On / Every Teacher a Coach).

The educator as a resource implies that the s/he has multiple skill sets: expertise in the process of learning and expertise in how to navigate online environments along with the ability to mentor learners using these skill sets.

Educator as a Demonstrator of Technologies

A subtitle of this section is It Really Is About the Technology . . .  Sort of.  In order for learner agency and self-directed learning to occur, educators need to keep abreast of current and emerging technologies. There is an assumption that young people are digitally savvy and know how to use emerging technology.

The widely-held assumption that all young people are digitally literate and able to navigate the internet meaningfully is inaccurate. This is something we urgently need to address if we are to support young people to cope with – and contribute to – a complex, global and digital society (New report challenges the assumption that all young people are digitally savvy).

“If educators are serious about preparing learners for their real lives – current and future, then it becomes an ethical imperative to bring relevant, current, and emerging technologies into the learning environment (It really is about the technology and . . .).  This translates into showing learners the possibilities of technology and internet use for learning so the learners can then bring this knowledge into their own learning journeys.

Learning is Viewed as Natural, Fun, Playful, and Joyful

It has been said that learning is painful. I take issue with that phrase. When learning occurs in settings and with processes selected by the learner, it is natural, fun, playful, and joyful. Sure, there are struggles as new learning develops, but it becomes a natural, accepted part of the process.

The highest-level executive thinking, making connections, and “aha” moments of insight and creative innovation are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of what Alfie Kohn calls exuberant discovery, where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.  Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen — literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research (The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning).

Climate of Free Range and Constructivist Learning

The learning environment in a setting embracing self-directed learning takes on the characteristics of free range learning resulting in learners constructing their own meanings from their learning endeavors.

Free Range Learning is learning by living. It is learning by following our passions, exploring our world, living inquisitive lives and thinking freely. It is a lifestyle based on trust of a child’s natural desire to learn about the world around them. Every person’s learning journey will develop based upon their interests, experiences and choices (What is Free Range Learning?).

Free range learning is often associated with unschooling or homeschooling but it is intimately related to self-directed learning; and its tenets can be brought into in a more formal learning environment. The result is an honoring of contructivist learning “which holds that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge that then resides within them, so that each person’s knowledge is as unique as they are” (Learning Theories and Transfer of Learning).

Open to Emergent Learning and Learning Possibilities

Emergent learning is unpredictable but retrospectively coherent, we cannot determine in advance what will happen, but we can make sense of it after the event. It’s not disordered; the order is just not predictable (Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0).

Ambiguity is accepted. The educator lets go of what types of learning and products should result. By letting go of expectations “what should be”, there is an opening up to all kinds of emergent learning possibilities.

With an openness to emergent learning and learning possibilities, there is an acceptance that learning is 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://learningismessy.com/)

. . . and a trusting of the process and embracing the journey:

I have learned that if you give freedom and trust to students, they will find their own way to the learning that matters the most. Playing it safe is not going to yield the opportunities that will make a difference. Off-script is when you don’t quite know where you are going, but you have the courage to commit to the journey knowing that it is the process itself that will hold the worth (Speculative Design for Emergent Learning: Taking Risks).

Use of Open Technology and Resources

In this age of information and technology abundance, free online technologies and resources are just ripe for the picking. An advantage of open educational resources is “expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly(Pros and Cons of Using OERs for Instruction). These resources leverage the playing field. They are available to all learners regardless of geographic location and SES level (although access to the Internet is required). This translates in the availability of high quality tools and resources outside of the more formal educational setting. Learners can access them in informal learning environments such as at home or local coffee shops and/or via their mobile devices in order to continue and extend their self-directed learning.

How the Learners’ Benefit

I often say that all learning activities should have multiple and layered benefits – addressing cross-curricular, cross-interdisciplinary areas as well as developing life skills. Here are some of the benefits along with example learner self-statements associated with those benefits that I have observed as a tour guide of learning possibilities:

  • Technology Skills: I can use technology to help me learn.
  • Creativity and Inventiveness: I can create new & worthwhile ideas & things.
  • Risk-Taking: I am willing to try new things when I am learning.
  • Academic Mindset: I am a good and powerful learner.
  • Communication: I can communicate clearly both verbally & in writing.
  • Curiosity and a Sense of Wonder: I wonder about the world around me.
  • Connected Learning: I can network with others to help with my learning.
  • Self-Directed Learning: I know how to learn new things on my own.
  • Self-Motivation: I can motivate myself to learn new things.

Educators as Tour Guides of Learning Possibilities

Schools Need to Include More Visual-Based Learning

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When asked what my first language is, I often answer, “visual.” I think in images, prefer to be taught through images, and like to express what I know through images. I find it disconcerting that as learners progress to the higher grades, there is less use of images and visuals to teach concepts.

The power of the use of vision for learning is emphasized by developmental molecular biologist, John Medina, where in his publication, Brain Rules, he states:

Vision Trumps All Other Senses

We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images (http://www.brainrules.net/vision).

Created by students for teachers, the following video shows students frustrated with the lack of visual learning in the classroom:

This post is a call to action to increase visual-based learning in the classroom through:

  • Using visuals, images, video, and other visual media to teach and demonstrate concepts.
  • Using and teaching learners how to make concept maps.
  • Using and teaching learners how to do sketchnotes.
  • Allowing and encouraging learners to show what they know through visual imagery.
  • Teaching visual literacy.

A Visual Enhanced Classroom

Use Visuals, Images, Data Visualizations, Infographics and Videos to Teach Concepts

Our brains are wired to rapidly make sense of and remember visual input. Visualizations in the form of diagrams, charts, drawings, pictures, and a variety of other ways can help students understand complex information. A well-designed visual image can yield a much more powerful and memorable learning experience than a mere verbal or textual description (http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/visual-thinking/).

Because of all of the multimedia available to teachers, there has been an increased use of visual presentation of content in the classroom.  Educators, though, should assess their visual impact. Youtube videos of talking heads or PowerPoint presentations that are text based just reinforce instructional systems too heavily dependent on the verbal and written word.

The use of slide presentations by educators help to provide visual stimulus for their learners. They tend, though, to be way too text based as satirized in Life After Death by PowerPoint by Don McMillan . Truthfully, I am a strong proponent of using PowerPoints for teaching given that they are image rich and text limited. Garr Reynolds or Presentation Zen provides tips for preparing presentations that honor the use of visuals in Top Ten Slide Tips.

Concepts can also be demonstrated through data visualizations and infographics.

Visual analytics play off the idea that the brain is more attracted to and able to process dynamic images than long lists of numbers. But the goal of information visualization is not simply to represent millions of bits of data as illustrations. It is to prompt visceral comprehension, moments of insight that make viewers want to learn more (http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/data-visualized-more-on-teaching-with-infographics/)

Strategies for using data visualizations and inforgraphics in the class can be found at Data Visualized: More on Teaching With Infographics.

Use and Teach Learners How to Make Concept Maps and Graphic Organizers

Research tells us that the majority of students in a regular classroom need to see information in order to learn it. Some common visual learning strategies include creating graphic organizers, diagramming, mind mapping, outlining and more. These strategies help students or all ages better manage learning objectives and achieve academic success. As students are required to evaluate and interpret information from a variety of sources, incorporate new knowledge with what they already have learned, and improve writing skills and think critically, visual learning tools help students meet those demands. Paired with the brain’s capacity for images, visual learning strategies help students better understand and retain information (http://www.inspiration.com/visual-learning).

CmapAboutCmaps-medium

For more ideas for using mind maps in the classroom, see 10 Mind Mapping Strategies For Teachers.

Use and Teach Learners How to Do Sketchnotes

Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines (definition from Mike Rohde, The Sketchnote Handbook).  Although sketchnoting was born out of the need to take better notes at conferences and in meetings, I believe the process of making sketchnotes may have tremendous educational value for students and professionals.  This is especially true for students who struggle taking traditional notes or need a fresh approach to learning.  Please keep in mind that this is about ideas, not art (The Sketchnote Handbook) (http://campus.murraystate.edu/faculty/jcox/sketch.html).

I discuss Sketnoting in more detail in my post – Visual Note-Taking.

Allow and Encourage Learners to Show What They Know Through Visual Imagery

Allowing learners to show what they know through visuals supports Universal Design for Learning second principle, Provide Multiple Means of Expression:

It is important to provide alternative modalities for expression, both to the level the playing field among learners and to allow the learner to appropriately (or easily) express knowledge, ideas and concepts in the learning environment. These include:

  • Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, design, film, music, dance/movement, visual art, sculpture or video
  • Use social media and interactive web tools (e.g., discussion forums, chats, web design, annotation tools, storyboards, comic strips, animation presentations)
  • Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, comics, storyboards, design, film, music, visual art, sculpture, or video

Such alternatives reduce media-specific barriers to expression among learners with a variety of special needs, but also increases the opportunities for all learners to develop a wider range of expression in a media-rich world (http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle2).

Teach Visual Literacy

If we think of literacy as reading and writing words, visual literacy can be described as the ability to both interpret and create visuals. With the constant, overwhelming flow of information and communication today, both parts of this modern literacy equation are non-negotiable (http://gettingsmart.com/2015/07/the-new-literacy-equation-visual-literacy-is-non-negotiable/).

Visual literacy is important in multiple ways:

  • Teaching visual literacy helps kids better interpret art and visual media that they come in contact with.
  • Visual literacy allows a deeper interaction with texts of all kinds and introduces the process of analytical thinking about representation and meaning.
  • There is evidence that, even for older children, examining and understanding how art and text interact may allow readers to “visualize” while they read–a key to proficiency in and enjoyment of reading.
  • By teaching “educated perception” of artwork (for instance, how certain techniques elicit specific emotions or effects) you can teach children how to be more skeptical and informed viewers of all visual media, including advertising (http://ccb.lis.illinois.edu/Projects/youth/literacies/visual2.html).

 visual-literacy

Here is list of visual literacy resources as compiled by Kathy Schrock:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Promises to My Learners as a Maker Educator

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I used to teach a graduate course in professional ethics for the educator. One of the assignments I did is have these inservice educators develop a list of promises to their students. I asked them to make it poster size so they can post these promises in their classrooms. Here is an example: 10 Amazing Teacher Promises for the Beginning of School.

As I prepared to teach a summer school/camp on maker education (see http://www.makereducation.com/summer-camp-schedule.html), I decided compose a list of promises to my learners as a maker educator.

  1. I promise to make the making environment positive, joyful and physically and emotionally safe so you feel safe enough to take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, and test things out.
  2. I promise you to provide you with resources and materials to help you create, make, innovate.
  3. I promise that I will respect and support your own unique ways of thinking, learning, creating, and interacting with others.
  4. I promise to work with you to create learning experiences that are personally relevant to you.
  5. I promise to support and help you understand and navigate the ups and downs, the mistakes and failures, and the trials and errors associated with making.
  6. I promise to give you time and opportunities to collaborate and share with other makers (of all ages).
  7. I promise to provide you with positive feedback on things you can control—such as effort, strategies, and behaviors.
  8. I promise to encourage you to critically think, formulate questions of your own, and come up with your own conclusions.
  9. I promise you that I will not intervene with your learning process unless you ask me to do so.
  10. I promise to support you as you embrace the joy in creating, playing, innovating, and making.

promises as a maker educator

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 27, 2015 at 3:01 am

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. http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play/

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

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