The maker movement is a vehicle that will allow schools to be part of the necessary return to constructivist education. It is a movement that will allow students to be creative, innovative, independent, and technologically literate; not an “alternative” way to learn, but what modern learning should really look like (Stager, 2014).
Constructionist theory stresses the importance of tools, media, and context in human development, and the processes by which individuals come to make sense of their experience and envision a better world through technology fluency and integration (Ackermann, 2001). Constructivist and constructionist principles, through their emphasis on active educational opportunities, have led to the development of the maker culture and STEM focused approaches to student learning and engagement (Hamir, S. et al 2015).
One application of constructivist theory in the classroom is Project-based Learning (PBL). Giving students a real-life problem to solve, as an intentional reason to use design thinking, changes the quality of the learning. Students are not learning because a teacher simply told them information they are required to remember, students are learning because they need and want to solve a problem to make the world a better place. This type of design thinking has the power to transform students into global citizens committed to creative solutions to solve global problems. This is the type of student innovator we are missing in our current educational settings (Wagner & Compton, 2012).
Put quite simply, design thinking is a method to solve a problem. In schools, we often have a traditional model of a teacher providing knowledge and a student replicating that knowledge in the form of a project after the knowledge transfer has taken place. Despite this project perhaps being viewed as “hands on learning” and some type of creation made by the student, it is not constructionism just because a student “constructed” something. There was no problem to be solved, only information to be reproduced.
The AHC Maker Matic internship program was a model application of design thinking. Our business partner presented a cohort of 22 interns with a real-world business problem from her company. The students peeled the problem apart and discovered almost 100 other ancillary issues. Even though coaches tried to keep students focused solely on problems during that initial phase as was “scripted” in the Maker Matic outline, the students frequently and seamlessly moved back and forth between problems and solutions, a foundational practice in design thinking. The internship showed that this model provides a pathway for students who “need and want to solve a problem to make the world a better place.”
Many educational models are not based on Project-based Learning and design thinking. The Maker Matic coaches could have assigned the interns to read books, articles and other information, report back and measure what they remembered with a multiple-choice test. This is an example of formal learning that is carefully controlled, structured, organized and delivered by a dedicated institution or department. Some AHC educators only value formal learning and see no place for informal learning in its educational ecosystem. This view is at odds with the maker mindset and the makerspace movement. One would almost certainly come to a different conclusion about informal learning by “going to the gemba” to see the actual process, understand the work, ask questions and learn. AHC’s Vice President of Academic Affairs sets an example in this for all administrators. He could sit in his office, read reports and issue directives. Instead, he goes to curriculum committee meetings, learns about its challenges and puts himself in a position to help faculty solve problems.
The Allan Hancock College makerspace is part of the Central Coast Makerspace Network along with the Santa Maria Public Library and the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum. Each of these institutions has their own governance, culture and aspirations. A reader of the experience paper the network submitted to the International Symposium of Academic Makerspaces noted that “A single makerspace, with a community of similar backgrounds; is easy. Interdisciplinary is hard. Creating a network of makerspaces, within multiple locations, with multiple stakeholders; that’s on another level.” Leading this network requires seeing the actual process, understanding the work, asking questions, and learning.
I hope this contributes to the conversation about moving forward with makerspaces.
Ackermann, E. (2001), Piaget’s Constructivism, Papert’s Constructionism: What’s the Difference? MIT Laboratory: Future of Learning Group Publication. Alberta Education, A. (2011). Framework for student learning: Competencies for engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit. Retrieved from Edmonton, Alberta: http://education.alberta.ca/department/ipr/curriculum.aspx
Hamir, S., Maion, S., Tice, S., & Wideman, A. (2015) ETEC 512. Constructivism in Education. Retrieved February 3, 2016 from http://constructivism512.weebly.com
Stager, G. (2014). What’s the Maker Movement and Why Should I Care? Scholastic [email protected] Magazine, (Winter 2014). http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3758336
Wagner, T., Compton, R., Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World 1st Edition, January 2012