The subject-matter of his presentation was very much in-line with the overall theme of the conference, “Building Engagement”. His session was part of the pre-conference whose focus was, “Maker-Spaces and Design Thinking”.
My Prior Understandings
The Maker-Education movement that is currently happening in educational circles is a return to our cottage-making roots and a return to the engagement, learning, and joy of building things with our hands. It is almost like an adverse reaction to too many years of post-industrial factory-assemblage and mechanization. We’ve valued what our brains can do (knowledge) over what our hands can make (building) for too many generations. In a world that is highly 2-D digitized, it is refreshing that there is a revolution happening where we are discovering anew the value of working and building 3D with our hands. It’s no longer a case of society looking down at something “home-made” but instead valuing it for being “hand-made”, now. The dichotomy where the blue-collared worked with their hands and the white-collared were the academics, is disappearing. We can all be artisans and engineers, now.
The Maker-Education is exactly this and some are actually calling it the “new industrial revolution“.
The Maker-Education movement is defined as ” …young people [developing] confidence, creativity, and interest in science, technology, engineering, math, art, and learning as a whole through making.”
Maker-Spaces are spaces in schools for students to engage in “making”. I liken it to an updated hybrid of the industrial art “shops” and home economics “labs” from when I was growing up. In Maker-Spaces, students can engage with electronics, textiles, woodwork, robotics, 3D Printing etc. while utilizing technology and computer programming to raise critical-thinking and engagement levels.
Though many schools are interested in developing maker-spaces for their students, there exists the problem of finding a permanent space for it. Some schools are turning their libraries into maker-spaces in their bid to “make space” for making, actually.
New Learnings from the Session
Mr. Shillitoe’s presentation was on “pop-up” maker-spaces. The “pop-up” part refers to the idea of a maker-space that can be opened-up quickly for a short period of time and then folded and put away afterwards. The title of his session was “Make Space for Maker-Spaces”. This was his solution to help us “make space” for making in our schools, when space is limited.
Mr. Shillitoe provided us with real-life examples of many pop-up makerspaces during the conference. He set up many little maker-stations around the conference where students and teachers could engage with making. They were all very compact stations which could be set up and taken down quickly.
The idea is that a school could “pop” up stations all over the school at various intervals, inviting the community to make. It would be great if the themes of the booths connected to another on-going event at the school. Here are some of his booths from the conference (See the corresponding images posted on this webpage)
- Dance Mat Pacman: Computer programming with electrical circuits and the Makey-Makey
- Minecraft on Raspberry Pi with Python: Modifying the underlying code of the game, Minecraft, using the microcomputer/microcontroller Raspberry Pi.
- DIY Gamer Animation with Arduino: Coding the Arduino microcontroller to make a computer game
- Adafruit Flora lighting for #TECHXture– LED electronics and the Arduino Flora microcontroller.
- Creating Music on the Raspberry Pi with Sonic Pi
- Skateboard LED with conductive dough—LED electronics and conductivity
During Mr. Shillitoe’s presentation, he talked about how easy it was to build engagement (theme of the conference) in students when they are invited to be hands-on with their learning. All students need for this are “time and space” to explore in an open-ended fashion what different materials can do. They are invited to problem-solve their way to creating something.
Mr. Shillitoe gave us some advice for teachers along the way, on the “design cycle” we should be taking as we lead our students through this experience:
- Design Learning Experiences: He invited us to try building in our own schools some of the pop-up maker-spaces he showed us
- Be Curious, Invite Wonder: More importantly, he invited us as teachers, to be more child-like and curious. He noted that there were very few adults trying the maker-space stations at the conference, but many students. Teachers can’t really invite curiosity and wonderment in our students, when we don’t have it, ourselves. Mr. Shillitoe shared with us a quote by Kath Murdoch, “Invite curiosity and wonderment into your school”.
- Inquiry Space for Serendipity: The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IBPYP) lists Inquiry and Constructivist as its preferred pedagogies (The Role of Technology in the IB Programmes, Pre-Publication p.20). Inquiry in the classroom should not always be engineered by the teacher. The most authentic inquiry experiences are those that students stumble upon themselves, serendipitously. Mr. Shillitoe shared this quote with us from Kevin Hawkins, “Lead a child to where they formulate good questions, then provide space”. Maker-Spaces are ideal places for creating authentic questions for children and then providing them with the time, space, and materials to answer them. The constructivist aims of the IBPYP are visibly fulfilled when children are physically constructing what they are learning about. The IBPYP talks about students constructing their own concepts and understanding. In Maker-Education, teachers get to see the physical representations of the concepts, understandings they are learning etc., through what they build.
- Think, Test, Create: Shillitoe’s version of the design cycle is, “Think, Test, Create”.
Maker-spaces are not glorified finger-painting stations. There is deep learning as students engage with concepts and skills related to computer programming, math (i.e. measurement and geometry), Science (i.e. electrical circuits, conductivity, engineering), Music (composition), and Art (form, function, aesthetics). Above all, it is an opportunity to go through an authentic design cycle that wasn’t pre-planned for them by the teacher.
The connection between this presentation and my own classroom practice is that I am past the point of being a complete novice with computer programming in the primary school grades. I have spent a great deal of time programming 2D on the computer screen and my students in my coding club have spent even more time.
The original idea of using technology to enhance learning came to us in the 1960s through Dr. Seymour Papert. His idea was that children would learn to program in order to program their toys and make simple robotics. Well, the next step for myself and for my students is to apply our programming skills to something beyond the computer screen. I have ventured into working with the Lego We-Do (programming robotics), Lego Mind-storms (programming robotics), the Makey Makey (programming circuits), and the Raspberry Pi (programming a game on a micro computer using Python).
My next step is to look at the Arduino coding language and to use Arduino as a microcontroller. I have been a very able sewer, quilter for my entire life. I would like to try my hand at combining my love of working with textiles with micro-controllers next (called E-Textiles).
The Maker-Education movement is for tinkerers and those who are not afraid of exploring, trying, and failing. I am inspired by Mr. Shillitoe’s examples of maker-spaces and especially his examples of Arduino. I will be looking at Arduino for E-Textiles in the next few months. While I am working though that, I will keep in mind how to organize it for “pop-up” possibilities.
In the 1960s, Dr. Jean Piaget’s taught educators about the stages of cognitive development in children. He felt that primary school children learn best through hands-on manipulation of their world. The Maker Education movement is re-visiting those principles, while infusing it with the potential that modern technology brings. I feel that it is a great movement to rebalance us against many past years of screen-time for children in front of the TV and in front of the computer. It is indeed time to “make space for maker-spaces”.
— Mark Shillitoe (@markshillitoe) March 24, 2015
What do you get excited about making?
*This blogpost is an embellished form of a paper I submitted to SUNY for credits towards my M.S. (EDU 594–Advanced Issues of International Education for International Schools).