15 Takeaways from the Make: Education Forum

This is part of a series in advance of the upcoming Maker Faire in New York City. You can view the whole Maker Faire series or look at the related Make Learning Happen, Museum-Education postScience EdTech Tools, or Making in New York posts.

I had the opportunity to attend the Make: Education Forum in advance of the World Maker Faire in New York, and, along with valuable technical information, I learned some details about bringing making to the classroom. I have a personal history as a builder, and I have used project-based learning in my classroom for many years. Coworkers and I have also helped train other teachers in making in the District 75 MAD Lab. Despite all of that though, this forum showed me a few new tools and helped me refine my thoughts on the project-based learning model in general. Here are some of those insights.

Maker Insights

  1. Perhaps the ambiguity of the term maker is part of what makes it compelling. It is part analog and part digital. It can be intense inventing, designing, engineering, and project-based learning (PBL) or just tinkering and playing. These distinctions aren’t necessary for PBL to be effective. It’s really just revisiting some of the components of progressive education. Making is about turning abstract ideas into tangible objects.
  2. Since John Dewey, educators have sought to help students learn by doing, making, and reflecting on their creations. To be successful teachers must give students space, time, and guidance to explore and create.
  3. Project-based learning provides the opportunity for students to reflect on their physical creations and accomplishments and see tangible growth. Sometimes it feels great to look at your creation and say “I made that.” and other times it’s great to look at crappy old project & realize how much you’ve grown.
  4. There are a number of great new tools to make circuitry and engineering more accessible for younger learners. Research shows that these new tools are often more effective for understanding circuitry. New tools can often make the task easier and lead to greater understanding.circuits.002.jpeg
  5. With computer science and project-based learning becoming more common in schools, we often hear about the technology tools and software being used in classrooms. Technology should be the enabler of great learning not the focus of it.
  6. With the focus of some educational and professional makerspaces being the tools you need to learn about to participate, we create a barrier to entry. 3D printers & laser cutters are great, but makerspaces need to be built around the people and their creativity.
  7. paper-triangle-ball.jpgToo often math is forgotten in the pursuit of STEM instruction, but that often has to do with a misunderstanding of what math is. Math can be a fun and creative experience. Look at the work of Making Math Visible for examples.
  8. We think of language as being beautiful and profound. For that reason, we paint quotes on our walls and post them at the end of our emails. Why don’t we put the Fibonacci sequence or some other geometric shape there. People recognize the power of language with quotes carved into a building forgetting that the power of math made that building.
  9. Studies show that PBL is both more popular and more effective at producing general academic achievement than traditional teaching methods. PBL also leads to enhanced professionalism, collaboration, attendance, self-reliance, and improved attitudes towards learning. But while making in education empowers learning content, its true power is that it empowers students to learn who they are and what they care about.
  10. After a lifetime of test preparation, many students come to view learning as drudgery. It can be corrected though. Sometimes it only takes one interesting project to turn around a student’s view of what learning can be. Check out an interactive light painting as an example.
  11. IMG_4971For too long, a focus on standardized testing has removed students and teachers from the joy of learning. Play and fun have been taken away. Teachers need to learn to play again.
  12. Top-achieving students often learn the procedures of how to study and answer questions on exams without delving deep into the learning process. Alternately, students who struggle are forced to challenge their learning methods regularly. Studies have shown that valedictorians don’t become high-achievers outside of schoolBeing good at school is not the same as being a good learner.
  13. You will often find struggling students showing great improvement through PBL without the barriers of literacy and other traditional learning necessities. Makerspaces are democratizing for students who don’t learn well traditionally.
  14. The question was posed about whether PBL improves test scores. There is research that shows students of trained PBL teachers score as well or better on standardized tests. That achievement though is dwarfed by the fact that PBL improves critical thinking, collaboration, and conflict resolution across all grades, subjects, and levels.
  15. There is a better question than do makerspaces improve test scores. It’s “Do high test scores lead to lifelong success and happiness?”.  You can see above that valedictorians aren’t the world’s elite. In fact, you’ll find in other studies that personality more than test scores predict future success. The joyful frustration found in making produces the character necessary for success.

School too often rewards the box-checkers and rule followers while the real world celebrates change makers.

 

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