Monday, June 24, 2013

Invent to Learn: Less Us, More Them

Yesterday, my first day at the ISTE Conference, I did the Invent to Learn workshop with Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez.  This workshop was very hands-on, but also gave some background about the DIY/Maker Revolution.  Gary explained that there is a lot of interest in learning by making.  At the moment many schools are investigating 3D printing, for example, yet it is the design and intellectual processes behind this printing that is most interesting in terms of student learning.  Gary talked about personal fabrication being the next major revolution - with 3D printers for example you have the means of production and also the process skills to be able to design and create.  It is now possible to receive the design of something such as a musical instrument or bike by email, and to customize it to your own preferences and then print it out.

Gary explained at a time when educators are getting the message that formal schools are becoming irrelevant to our students, he feels the opposite:  he cares about schools because that is where kids are and he believes that the new emphasis on STEM could be "save" schools because science is something that children love and which helps them make sense of the world.  The focus is shifting back to:
  • Fabrication
  • Physical computing
  • Computer programming
This can remove the distinction between academic and vocational education.  

Gary talked about how the Maker Revolution is giving us the skills we need for the future and likened this to "going up on the down escalator".  Students need to try things out and learn what works and what doesn't work by working through a process of think, make and improve.  They move a little bit forward and also a little bit backwards and yet they are still motivated.  In order to foster a climate of risk taking Gary discussed what is necessary:
  1. A good prompt, challenge or problem - which is brief, ambiguous and has an immunity to assessment
  2. Appropriate materials
  3. Sufficient time - we want deep learning so need to let students work on long-term projects
  4. A supportive culture, including expertise
However the most important thing we can do as teachers is to step back and let students learn through their experience.  There needs to be less us and more them.

Image Credit: 3D printed guitar taken from licensed for reuse.

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