February 13th, 2014

Making is Modern Learning

Gary Stager:

Maker faires, where adults and children are gathering in ever-growing numbers, celebrate the inventor in all of us, but they also seem to be brewing an anti-school streak among some parents and children. “School is boring” has given way to “School is destroying my child. Look at what they are capable of doing! School is oblivious to my child’s interests, talents, and expertise.” I am not willing to give up on school, simply because that is where the kids are. We can and should make classrooms more like Maker Faires.

Often parents are torn between their respect for the institution of school and their intuition that something is not working for their child. Be clear while making your case that although your plans may not look exactly like traditional school, you are not abandoning high standards or a quest for learning. The argument for making, tinkering, and engineering should not be as an “alternative” way to learn, but what modern learning really looks like.

November 26th, 2013


Kakul Srivastava:

One of the insights that we’ve come to is that the premise of how work is done fundamentally needs to change. We imagine these corporate environments (often very large companies) and we try to visualize how they might improve their infrastructure and communication patterns. The real revolution isn’t inside the company — it’s that the company itself is increasingly irrelevant.

The atomization of the corporation is very real and has been discussed at length. What’s discussed less is how increasingly critical our out[side] of work networks are to our ability to get work done. Millennials are more likely than any other previous generations to daily access their outside-of-work networks to get work done. The forces of micro-entrepreneurship are increasing making each of us our own “corporation”, reliant on our outside networks to make things happen. Finally, as our previous work experience becomes increasingly irrelevant to our future work problems, our real asset to bring to any endeavor becomes our network. FB and even Linked In are not capable of meeting these demands. We’ll see the rise of modern, personal networks for work, to allow these worker tribes to thrive and flourish.

I think for most of us, our PLNs are “sharing networks” in that the main currency in our connections are links and or ideas that, in theory at least, amplify our own learning about whatever it is we’re interested in. But seeing our networks as “critical to getting our work done” is a step up for most (not all.) That requires a willingness and a literacy in collaboration and transparency that I’m thinking most eductors (and others) still aren’t comfortable with.

The point here, however, is once again about our kids. If Srivastava is correct that “the company itself is increasingly irrelevant,” that’s a huge shift in the way we think about preparing our students. It’s not now just a personal learning network. It’s a “personal get stuff done with other people network.” We have a hard enough time with students getting real, important stuff done with other kids in the classroom much less online. All of which is why making and inquiry and PBL leading to authentic, shared knowledge creation and done in the context of outside-of-classroom networks should be a central focus of classrooms and schooling in general. 

How we doin’ with that?

January 4th, 2013

Our New Value: Making Stuff With Kids

Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen

The sixth graders at Marymount School — an independent Catholic school for girls in Manhattan — have a problem they need to solve. The American Dental Association recommends that kids brush their teeth for two minutes, twice a day. But the students know that most kids fall well short of that goal. How — their teachers ask — can they find a solution to this challenge?

The girls open their sketchbooks and doodle possible solutions. One toothbrush plays music. Another comes with a timer. Still another has a tiny TV embedded into the handle. One model grows larger as you brush and then gets smaller when the two minutes are up.

The project takes several weeks and involves more than a few trips to the school’s Fab Lab, a state-of-the art digital prototyping and manufacturing facility that Marymount started in 2011 to more thoroughly engage its students in math and science. It’s here that they transfer their sketches to computer-automated drawings, which are then sent to the classroom’s MakerBot, a 3-D printer that seems like it was plucked straight out of The Jetsons.

While there’s a lot of laughing in the Fab Lab, the class also comes with its share of frustration as students try their hands at solutions that don’t work. That’s all part of the process, says Jaymes Dec, the lab’s administrator, who started Marymount’s program after a grant to facilitate these same kind of lessons with South Bronx high schoolers ran out. “My goal is more about inspiration than education,” he says. “I don’t believe you can just pour knowledge into students. They have to learn things by trying them out.”

Two things:

1. Read the whole thing. I’ve been droning on for some time now that if we are to save schools, our value proposition has to change. We can’t be the places kids come to learn stuff that they can learn on their own in a gajillion different places now. We have to become the places where we help kids make interesting, meaningful, useful, beautiful artifacts of their learning that they can share with the real world. That’s our value moving forward. That stuff that can’t be “Khanified.”

2. This is “unflippable” if you will. I’ve come around to the idea that flipping classrooms has helped teachers individualize with students and make the content more meaningful in practice. But it’s still our content. It’s still about what we want kids to learn when we want them to learn it absent any real context or purpose that makes it meaningful outside the classroom, context that helps them to love it. I’ll take a Fab Lab every day. I’ll take spaces where kids are engaged in work that is meaningful to them, not us.

I know…the Fab Lab is hard. There’s no money. There’s no space. We’d need training. Lots of “Yeah, Buts”. But I’d argue the bigger problem is there is no vision. If we see this as better learning than the lockstep curriculum that we’re currently delivering in a variety of ways in schools, then why aren’t we fighting harder for it? Why aren’t we demanding it? Why aren’t we at least starting conversations around it?

The good news is, some people are.

Need a roadmap? Follow the kids at Marymount. We have a problem we need to solve. Schools are under a huge challenge from the Web, and we’re not changing. Take out your sketchpads. Start fabricating. Start talking. Start dreaming. Start creating a vision for teaching and learning that makes more sense for this moment. Engage in that conversation anywhere you can. 

And then, start making stuff with your kids.

The key, as with all of hands-on learning, is for the grownups not to do what really should be the child’s work. “We want to teach kids that they have a lot of answers inside of them,” says Jason Chua, one of SparkTruck’s founders. “If you don’t get things right the first time it’s OK to continue prototyping and iterating until you find a solution that makes sense.”

We have answers inside of us, too you know. Are you iterating toward change?

October 12th, 2012

"I’ve Always Done Worksheets"

A couple of weeks ago, Wendy and Tucker and I went to Maker Faire in New York City and it was, in a word, incredible. I’m not much of a maker myself, and I’ll admit being a bit late to the whole concept that seems to be exploding right now, but I was just amazed at how much cool stuff people were building and sharing. Brain. Melt. (On a side note, we’re going to be visiting this weekend with a local professor who has been using Arduino in his classrooms and promises to get us up to speed.) 

Right after that, I had the chance to stop by TechShop Detroit where I got a tour of what I can only describe as a builder’s paradise…3D printers and CAD computers and wood fabricators and water saws and…you get the idea. Stuff that used to be fringy in high school now going mainstream. 

And then, this morning, I ran across this: WikiSeat. And I’m thinking, “every child a maker.” Here’s someone who has created a “catalyst” or a basic starter piece for seat design, an easy entry into the maker idea, and an English teacher who has run with it. Not high tech, but high thinking. And the learning payoff is amazing. And I love the kids:

"I’ve never really done anything that’s like construction. I’ve always done worksheets and tests. It was probably the best test I’ve ever done in my life…It really just made me feel like I can complete any assignment that I want to do. I used to like didn’t want to do assignments because they felt too difficult, and after that, nothing feels difficult anymore."

And the teacher, Sean Wheeler:

"We spend a lot of time putting kids in front of geniuses telling them to study genius in other people. But what you’re really doing in teaching this project is pulling genius out of kids. Instead of trying to force it into them."

All of which speaks to this idea that we may be at the precipice of a real explosion of creative entrepreneurism that will be built on self-direction and resilience and failure and innovation and collaboration…none of which we truly value in the current school system enough to significantly change our approach. Nothing that Race to the Top wants to pay us for. (Wired’s Chris Anderson has a new book that dives into this idea: Makers:The New Industrial Revolution.)

So here’s the deal. If you’re a classroom teacher, you have until October 18 at noon to let the folks at WikiSeat know that you want to participate in a huge seat-making, problem solving, genius pulling project on a national scale. Provided their Kickstarter funding comes through, they’ll provide you all the “catalysts” you need by spring break 2013 to get your kids imagining and innovating and making.

Oh, and you can do it too.

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Welcome! I'm Will Richardson, parent, educator, speaker, author, 12-year blogger at Weblogg-ed and now here. I'm trying to answer the question "What happens to schools and classrooms and learning in a 2.0 world?" Best selling new book: Why School?s...order now!!

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