A throwaway world where we are slaves to consumerism is not a world I want for our kids. A world where our children are consumers and not creators of information is a world where our kids lack autonomy and agency and that is not a life I wish for our children.
The maker movement offers an appealing antidote to our children as passive consumes of information and products. In a maker environment children are at the center of the learning and it’s the child’s interests that drive the activities. This echoes the thinking of John Dewey who said in My Pedagogical Creed “The child’s own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education” Dewey believed that all too often children are passively absorbing facts from the teacher and learning through play, exploration and inquiry is sidelined for strict discipline. Instead he thinks school should be places where children are actively learning through their own experience and working together helping one another and sharing the tasks. Doing and learning through play, tinkering, exploring and making are critical components of maker education. Children need time to experiment, try, fail and try again. Piaget was another great theorist who believed children learned through doing – actively constructing their knowledge as they explore and experiment with their environment. In New Zealand the inquiry approach is embraced and teachers have moved away from the consuming model. Maker education takes inquiry to the next level through constructionism.
I hope it is not misconstrued that play, making, tinkering and hacking is to mean leaving the child to their own devices. My understanding of maker education is that the teacher’s role is more like that of coach. The teacher sets the conditions for learning and offers feedback when necessary.
Dewey also believed that the problem with traditional schooling is that it disjoined from the real workings of the world and therefore cannot prepare children for their adult lives. He goes on to say: “I believe that the school must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the play-ground” Central to the maker pedagogy is that learning must be meaningful and have a purpose for the child. It is about creating meaningful products – not just doing for the sake of doing. Children must be involved in tasks that include real life problem solving that is relevant and meaningful to them and their world.
When children (and adults) are making they often experience a state of flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi flow describes a specific type of experience that is so intense, engaging and enjoyable that people want to do it again and again, just for the sake of doing it. An important condition of flow is challenge. Problem solving, creating and making is not always easy work, but children will persist because the locus of control is with the child and a great sense of accomplishment comes with the completion of a task. As Gary Stager puts it “Kids are willing to engage in hard fun” and as I added “We just need to let them…”
Seymour Papert is considered the grandfather of maker education and his works should be read in order to understand the underpinnings of maker education. Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez are two must follow people if you are interested in maker education in your school.
You will hear a great deal about computers, robotics, 3d printing, electronics etc.. in the maker movement and maker education. While these tools are an impetus for making, there is danger of them being used just for the sake of it or with the teacher still at the centre of the learning. Consider a teacher who teachers a predeterimied set of computer skills to a child as apposed to a child using the computer to express and empower themselves. Using the computer to solve problems that are meaningful to them gives rise to using technology in a way that transforms the learning experience. That is why for me, making as a mindset must come first before making as an end product. Sylvia puts it best when she says ‘’making is a stance’’ Making is knowing that you have the confidence to solve problems.
References and resources
John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed (1897) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/My_Pedagogic_Creed
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (2009) Flow. In S Lopez (Ed) Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology (394-399) Retrieved from Blackwell Reference Online. 16 July 2012 http://www.blackwellreference.com/subscriber/tocnode?id=g9781405161251_chunk_g97814051612518_ss1-7