Seymour Papert was the founder of the Constructionist Learning Lab, and he had 8 big ideas that were crucial to the undertaking of this type of teaching and learning. These big ideas are found in Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the classroom. We have created a poster to hang in your classroom makerspace to use with both teachers and students as they approach a new understanding of creativity, inquiry and makerspace in the classroom!
Going Deeper into the Big Ideas...our thoughts, experience and research!
Idea 1 Learn by Doing! Learning becomes solidified when the content and pedagogy are authentic and relevant. That is, in order for deep learning to occur, one must interact with the content and knowledge directly. Makerspace allows this to occur for students, by making them the creators and designers of their own knowledge. The same premise is applicable to educators. Through experiencing the concept and content of a virtual makerspace as professional development, educators are deeply engaged with the framework and better able to envision this pedagogy at work in their own work environments. As we know, learning through design is the most effective way to learn and integrate new knowledge into current memory structures.
Idea 2 Technology as Building Material! Technology makes it possible to create and design in ways not accessible in the material world. While one may not be able to physically sculpt with any degree of accuracy, software programs make it possible to sculpt intricate figures in a virtual environment. This principle operates on the concept of distributed cognition. Technology acts as a tool, making the physical equivalent skill unnecessary. Previously, in order to utilize technology to a great degree of effectiveness, one had to be highly trained in the technical aspect of technology, such as complex coding. Today, more and more programs are being designed with a simple, usable interface accessible to a much larger population. This includes applications such as Autodesk 123D, Scratch, and Maya. Software applications such as these allow the use of technology as building material, without requiring in-depth technical knowledge.
Idea 3 Hard Fun! According to Vygotsky (John-Steiner,V.& Mahn, H.,1996), learning needs to occur within the zone of proximal development; the area situated just between tasks that are too easy, and those that are too difficult for a student to complete on his own. At this level, challenges are perceived to be attainable, which provides motivation to pursue a goal. The fact that learning is situated in this “just right” zone, means that the challenge requires significant effort to achieve, but as a result of previously attained challenges, the learner is willing to apply the necessary effort to achieve the new level of skill or knowledge. Successfully achieving goals in the zone of proximal development also provides motivation to apply effort to achieve future goals
Idea 4 Learning to Learn! The educational system that has been in place for the past century has taught students how to be passive learners; sit, listen, and learn as the teacher fills you with knowledge. Complete your seat work, projects and tests to show us how much you have learned this unit. Questions about the concept are welcomed, but do not necessarily question the concept. We have created students who can only function when told exactly what to do. They panic when asked to think on their own. The constructionists and maker movement takes learning from being a passive event to an active one. Construct your own knowledge. Understand its place in the world and, if possible, apply it to a new situation. Take charge of your own learning, only then will it be meaningful to you. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia school in Italy said, “Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode.” (Gandini, L., 1993).
Idea 5 Taking Time! In the traditional (non-constructionist) classroom, every minute of the day is scheduled and planned for. Lessons and activities switch often and someone is always telling students what to do. Most teachers agree that if someone isn’t telling students what to do, they get bored and often veer off task. They have poor time management skills because someone else has always managed their time for them. Life beyond the classroom is not like this. Students leave the halls of K-12 education and suddenly are left to manage time on their own. This becomes overwhelming and many students pay the price by failing courses, lacking a competitive edge in the workforce, or losing jobs. The constructionist movement allows students to develop a plan, implement the plan, perhaps fail at the plan, try again, and at the same time managing the time they have to complete the task. This process encourages persistence, resilience, complex problem solving, and innovation. “The process of education is not about supplying students with lumps of information to be regurgitated on demand.It is about enabling students to learn how to learn. It is also about giving them opportunities to hear what others have learnt (knowledge) and to then discuss, argue, and reflect on this knowledge to gain a greater understanding of its truth for them and of how this knowledge will be of use to them. (Holt, M., 2014).”
Idea 6: You Can’t Get It Right Without Getting It Wrong! “Anyone who has never made a mistake, never tried anything new” (Albert Einstein). The current school system and socio-cultural expectations of our communities see failure as something that needs to be avoided at all cost. Learn these facts, do these assignments, prepare for and take these tests. If you do what I say, you won’t fail. We judge our student’s worth on their ability to follow the rigid structure of our societies. Worst of all, we see students who will not try for fear of failure, students who compromise their ethics to avoid failure and finally students who can not handle failure (as they have never experienced it before). “The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it and turn it inside out (Harrel, T., 2012).” The constructionist format invites failure, we learn from our failures. To succeed you have to have seen how not to do things. How did we adapt when things went wrong? True knowledge comes from learning from failure not avoiding failure.
Idea 7: Do Unto Ourselves What We Do Unto Our Students In our classrooms, we tend to have defined the traditional roles of teacher and student. One is the receptor of knowledge and one is the expert and keeper of the knowledge. In a makerspace, we are asked to set aside our traditional understanding of roles and engage in learning as both a teacher and a student. In most professional codes of conduct for educators, we are called to be lifelong learners, and yet we insulate ourselves from difficulty or the possibility of failure. A constructionist educator is a facilitator, guide and inquisitor at the heart of student centered learning. Seymour Papert tells us “every difficulty we run into is an opportunity to learn. The best lesson we can give our students is to let them see us struggle to learn” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 74). The resources in our makerspace will be as much for educators to learn as they will be for students.
Idea 8: We Are Entering a Digital World Where Knowing about Digital Technology is as Important as Reading and Writing! Gary Stager was a student of Seymour Papert and experienced first hand the educational opportunity of a makerspace. Idea 8 actually comes from Stager as a 21st century addition to Papert’s work in the constructionist learning lab. Our world is changing every day and we need to help our students prepare for a future unknown (Robinson & Aronica, 2015). A reality we cannot ignore is the necessary skills of technological literacy that all of our students must possess for success in our global market (Fullan, 2013). A makerspace allows for a contextual platform to learn these digital fluencies. “So learning about computers is essential for our students’ futures BUT the most important purpose is using them NOW to learn about everything else” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 74).
Do you have a big idea for maker education? Please share your experience with us!