Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Directed -v- Self-Directed: Developing a Maker Mindset

We had our final R&D meeting of this school year today.  One of our items to discuss was the evolution of the library into a more creative space - perhaps a place for performances such as poetry readings, perhaps a place of recreation, perhaps a makerspace.  As our High School librarian pointed out - we want to move out of the pantry (storage) and into the kitchen (creating something).  A few days ago I was given the book Design, Make, Play by Margaret Honey and David E. Kanter, and when I got home I dipped into it.  I wanted to understand more about a maker mindset, and being in the elementary school I started to think about how playing, inventing, creating, exploring and so on naturally seemed to lead to curiosity, investigation, discovery and learning.

As I'm also part of ASB's newly formed Design Thinking team, I have been reading a lot around design over the past weeks.  In the first chapter of the book design is defined in the following way:  "the iterative selection and arrangement of elements to form a whole by which people create artifacts, systems, and tools intended to solve a range of problems, large and small."  Already, having been involved in teaching Design Technology some years ago, I was familiar with the design cycle which involves identifying a problem or need, planning different options, modelling and testing them.  Design always involved the students in critical thinking and problem solving of real-life problems, whether it was designing a physical object such as a kite in such a way that it would fly or a designing a process such as how to teach something to a different group of students.

Of course simply designing is not enough - one of the things students had to do in my MYP class was to actually make the kites and fly them.  In this way making is defined as "to build or adapt objects by hand, for the simple personal pleasure of figuring out how things work."  Now this was no easy feat - some people at the school where I was working were fairly dismissive of design technology as the focus was on IT and there were no facilities for making things - in fact DT was referred to as "shop".  In order to teach DT I had to take over the art room and use simple materials such as balsa wood, bamboo, cling film, plastic sheeting, paper, material, string and hot glue guns.  We had a few hand saws, some hammers and nails.  Looking back I find it ironic that from those small beginnings I have ended up on ASB's Design Thinking team and that this summer I'm off to the Henry Ford Institute to a Design Thinking workshop!

Among my friends who are also educators there seems to be a renewed interest in the value of play.  If the emphasis at school is on "work" and if play is where the discovery, innovation, creativity and learning actually takes place out of school, then it seems that the best way to develop a maker mindset is to introduce more play into schools.  In a chapter entitled The Maker Mindset Dale Dougherty writes:
The biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the Maker Mindset is to transform education ... We can create a workshop or makerspace, and we can acquire tools and materials, but we will not have succeeded at creating innovative thinkers and doers unless we are able to foster a maker mindset.
A maker mindset involves having a can-do attitude and a growth mindset - a belief that your capabilities can be developed, improved and expanded.  It's not just a matter of what you know, it's a matter of taking risks and perhaps failing and learning from those failures.  It's a matter of being open to exploring new possibilities and developing your full potential.  There is a huge difference between giving a child a Lego kit complete with instructions as to how to make a castle with the expectation that the child will follow the instructions and build a castle, and giving a child a bag of wooden blocks and letting them explore and build whatever they want to.  In classrooms it's the difference between being teacher directed and being self-directed and deciding what you want to inquire into and what you want to do with what you find out.  Teachers who want to encourage a maker mindset in their students, therefore, need to let go and encourage the students to play, design and make.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

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