Makerspaces are ideal places to grasp what happens when learners work directly with manipulative media- clay, scratch, circuitry, legos, movie editing apps, etc. to interact, create and share.
About the Maker Movement
The maker movement is hardly something new. It’s been around in the U.S. for over a decade now with big resemblances to shop classes, traditional art education, and progressive education. With an important focus on soft skills, such as collaboration, problem-solving, sharing, learning together, experimentation, and iterative processes, the making at the heart of this resurgence in educational settings is unique in many ways.
First, we need to distinguish making from Maker-Centered Learning. In the book Maker-Centered Learning – Empowering Young People to Shape their Worlds, the writers state that Maker-Centered Learning (MCL) goes beyond acquiring maker abilities (coding, digital illustrating, video making, drilling, fast prototyping, etc.) or discipline-specific knowledge and skills. It’s about building character, gaining creative confidence, knowing how to collaborate with others and being resourceful when confronted with challenges. The resurgence of making in educational settings is about opening a space in school where kids gather to create, invent, tinker, explore & discover. It’s also about having students learn from one another and create visible representations of their learning – be it a stop motion video, an animation or a game with scratch, a 3D print project, a circuit, a rocket, or a sand castle. MCL provides people with tools and ideas to rethink educational settings. But how to start? How to harness the power of making in my classes? What tools to get? What do teaching and learning look like in these so-called MCL environments?
Tips to get your makerspace started
1. Any space can become a makerspace
Do not wait, you have lots to learn and you’d better get started. The easiest way to start making connections to the classroom is to get as many people involved as soon as possible. At Casa Thomas Jefferson, the initial approach was to bring the movement to libraries. Before the dedicated space for making – CTJ Makerspace was inaugurated, teachers, librarians, students, and the community started experiencing with tinkering and the idea that a school library is a place for collaboration, active learning, engagement, discovery, and surprise.
When you start a makerspace in a library you send your community the message that the way people learn has changed, and that the school is learning together. Just find some room for a table and encourage tinkering, play, design and engineering challenges and open-ended exploration. Start with low cost and low tech challenges in a space where people feel welcome, challenged, and eager to learn how to make something of value to themselves or their community.
2. Realize early that it’s about building communities and having a maker mindset
Network, visit other makerspaces, read, share, challenge yourself to learn new abilities and be resilient. Participate in maker workshops and observe closely how the sessions are delivered and learn what teaching and learning feel like in action. Bring makers, enthusiasts, hobbyists, engineers, partners, teachers into a creative space with easy access to manipulative media. Look for partners and together find ways to offer the community a space to connect with ideas, tools, and people to fix, create, hack, and make new things. Most importantly, do it together with people who believe that the educational system needs a radical change and that we can help improve it.
3. Remember it is about the learning experiences, not just the technology, the tools or the physical space
A makerspace can be anything from a table full of craft supplies to a space with 3D printers, laser cutters, and power tools. However, in time you will become more adventurous and willing to experiment with the possibilities of fast prototyping within educational settings. Put yourself in a position in which you will need to learn from tools, the internet, students, experts, and community members. Again, visit educational makerspaces to learn about how educational narratives are designed, what people are making, sharing and learning. Worry about which tools and machines to get once you have become more familiar with the concept.
4. Understand maker-centered educational roots and connections
John Dewey‘s work emphasizes learning by doing. The philosopher understood knowledge-making as a dynamic process that unfolds as learners are engaged through reflective, iterative interaction with the practical demands and challenges of doing things in the real world. Two educational theories that connect directly to MCL are constructivism and constructionism. Jean Piaget argued that knowledge is constructed via the interaction between the learner’s conceptual schema and their experiences in the world to which these schemata are applied. At the core of MCL activities there is a strong focus on tinkering and figuring out solutions to challenges, and both processes start with one’s own ideas and the inclination and sensitivity to opportunities to shape these ideas through direct, experiential action.
Seymour Papert, considered by many the father of the resurgence of making in educational settings, holds in his view (Constructionism) that learning happens at it’s best when learners work directly with manipulative media. Lego bricks, clay, coding apps, fast prototyping machines, or even recyclables. Papert made clear the relationship between constructivism and constructionism, the important emphasis on making tangible projects, and the inclination to sharing what one makes with a wide audience throughout his work.
In a maker-centered classroom, facilitators encourage students to work together to solve challenges and derive inspiration from one another’s work. Peer learning and the work of Lev Vygotsky, relates heavily to MCL, for he promoted the idea that all learning is social. His concept of proximal development is highly applicable to the variety of peer learning that happens in a maker-centered class. Although peer learning is not a new concept, it is important to note that for MCL, peer learning is crucial either because learners genuinely know a lot, or because the efficient distribution of skill-instruction requires it, especially in case you have a large group who needs to learn a maker ability in order to perform the task and the fastest way to disseminate knowledge is by having students teach one another.
MCL has strong connections with Project-Based Learning (PBL). Both MCL and PBL are interest driven, may use expert knowledge and skills, are frequently collaborative, use learning technologies from paper-and-pencil mind maps to a variety of digital and analog tools, and students are expected to create tangible products that make the learning processes visible.
But the differences are worth noting:
- MCL might not be as well structured as PBL is. That is, for MCL, the learning experience might start with simply tinkering, opening a toy, or observing a system or product so that the inquiry questions emerge from student’s interactions with materials. MCL brings opportunities to build a maker mindset and build a tinkering attitude towards learning – a playful, failure positive way to approach challenges through direct experience, hands-on engagement, and discovery.
- MCL is not a well structured instructional approach as PBL is. PBL has a set of criteria which are often used to frame an entire curriculum. It might be the case with MCL, but for the most part, it weaves in and out of varied learning contexts.
5. Create a shared view of what MCL should look like in your school and build a bridge to your curriculum
Perhaps the best way to start implementing ideas into the classrooms informed both by progressive learning theories like John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Seymour Papert, and Lev Vygotsky and educational approaches like peer learning and PBL is to start thinking about the new words and jargon that we are using when we talk about MCL. Project Zero suggests a symptoms-based approach to point out characteristics that suggest what qualifies as a maker-centered experience but do not strictly define what the essence is or is not. In other words, a MCL experience need not include the full set of characteristics associated with such experience to qualify as one; rather, exhibiting a majority of these characteristics in any configuration suffices. Makerspaces are ideal for asking questions, prototyping ideas and learning by doing. We take inspiration from the book Maker-Centered Learning to attempt at drafting our own definition of MCL to guide us into designing MCL activities for our institution so that we have a single tool to validate practices, build confidence and competence, and strengthen our internal expertise.
6. Experience inspirational learning communities
9. Belong, make sense, be brave, proactive, and build in yourself creative competence and confidence to make things happen
Read about CTJ Makerspace maker workshops specially designed to connect people, foster the maker capacities of looking closely at products and systems, exploring complexities and finding opportunities to improve things around us.
10. Be generous and share your learning path.