Stuff. Just Make It.

MS

Maker Movement. Makerspaces. Play Pods. Fab Labs. Innovation Labs.

Ever since I had heard about the Makerspace movement some time ago I can honestly say that I was very intrigued. This I guess stems from my interest in students being actively engaged in their own learning, especially when involved in specific models of inquiry such as problem and challenge based learning. I have seen time and time again the engagement and learning of students develop at a rapid rate when they are the ‘activators’ of not so much what they learn, but how they learn it.

So what exactly is a Makerspace? There are many different variations but the general essence of what a Makerspace is well summed up by the “Makerspace Playbook” – Maker Education Initiative 2013 who state;

“Learning environments rich with possibilities, Makerspaces serve as gathering points where communities of new and experienced makers connect to work on real and personally meaningful projects, informed by helpful mentors and expertise, using new technologies and traditional tools.”

Simple!

2 weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of attending a workshop with Gary Stager, one of the, if not the, worlds foremost authority on Makerspaces and the Makerspace Movement.

At the very beginning of Gary’s workshop he showed a short clip from the wonderful 1950’s American TV Show The Little Rascals. I have embedded the full episode below via YouTube and it is well worth the watch. Gary’s main point from this clip was to highlight that close to 70 years ago young people, namely children, were active in the space of making and creating and yes, this is a TV show, however the ideas were there from someone. In the end, we learn by doing and making.

Besides being as I have mentioned interested in all of this for quite some time, one of the major draw cards to wanting to attend Gary’s workshop was that it involved for the most part tinkering, playing, making and creating. This involved using awesome new technologies, some of which I had heard of and others that I had not.

For me, it was also investigating how we bridge that gap between what students can do in a Makerspace, what they can learn, and how this ties in with the current curriculum.

The SAMR model was also touched upon as through having our students involved in making, creating and tinkering, we are wanting them to be involved on a journey that allows them to complete tasks and ‘things’ that were previously inconceivable. Much like the way we are wanting students to use technology based on the redefinition stage of SAMR.

Adding to all of this, Gary and his Colleague Silvia Martinez have recently written a book titled ‘Invent to Learn‘ and as its name suggests, focuses extremely heavily on using various technologies to make, create and tinker. A basis I believe for this workshop.

The website linked to Gary and Sylvia’s work is also an excellent resource for those wanting to know more about this space in education.

Now just one of the tools that I had a great time engaging with on the day was what is known as a ‘Makey Makey’ Kit. I am sure you may have heard on them. Basically a Makey Makey allows you to substitute just about anything for specific basic functions of a computer. The two embedded videos below highlight this perfectly.

For me personally, it was the ability at Gary’s workshop to be able to play Guitar Hero on my Mac using lollies as the guitar keys. Why would you want to do that I can hear people saying. Well, why would you not!

MMkit

It’s hard to read but yes, that is a 91% successful completion score for the Foo Fighters Song ‘Times Like These’. 

 

Whilst on Makey Makey I very recently came across this post by Brian Aspinall who has showcased some of the great Makey Makey stuff that he has done with his students in the UK: What Can You Invent? Exploring the Makey Makey in Grade 7 & 8

After watching these clips of Brian’s, again, you might be thinking “why?”. Here’s where we need to think deeper than the task. We need to think about the learning that took place. It would be great to hear from these kids what they actually learnt. What were their take aways? Did they learn about circuits and electrical wiring? Did they learn about open and closed circuits? Did they learn about electrical currents? What about items and objects that conduct electricity as opposed to those that do not? Did the water speakers react differently when different music was played? THEN we begin to learning about frequency and pitch and then about sound waves. And so the list goes on.

And it is HERE that drives the answer to that “why”.

When involved in a makerspace or learning of that nature, it is not only the focus perhaps of what the students have been directed to do, if anything, it is the ‘experiential learning‘ that takes place. Learning through doing and through experience.

Gary Stager in his workshop also discussed the notion of the ‘Maker Faire‘ which have apparently taken the United States by storm! As per the Maker faire website, a Maker Faire is: “Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.” Anyone keen? 😉

The 2014 the New York Maker Faire attracted 215,000 people who were simply curious and wanted to make ‘stuff’. Wouldn’t it be great if schools were like that! The curious and making part, not the 215,000 part.

Well why can’t they be? Schools and College worldwide and especially here in Australia are jumping on board and creating Makerspaces in their settings to engage and ignite the curiosity in our young minds.

Blogs posts such as these from Edutopia, “Designing a School Makerspace“, “Creating Maker Spaces in Schools“, and “ReMaking Education: Designing Classroom Makerspaces for Transformative Learning” are great starting points for those wishing to know more.

The 2006 TED Talk below by Neil Gershenfeld, an MIT Professor, is a great video of how a fab lab encouraged others to build what they needed using digital and analogue tools. A perfect example, albeit a complex one, of how a Makerspace and the freedom it gave to those wishing to build within it allowed them to create, innovate and inspire some truly remarkable ideas.

We also only need to look in our own backyard with great educators out there who are doing awesome things in this area. Adrian Camm and his work with 3D Printing is always a source of inspiration. As Gary mentioned in his workshop, Fabrication (3D Printing) is one of the the 3 ‘Game Changers’ along with Physical Computing (Makey Makey, Arduino, etc…) and Computer Programing. Adrian’s blog posts relating to his ‘Elephanticus‘ are great examples of how technology coupled with imagination can drive learning in this area.  Matt Richards and the work he has done around the Makerspace Movement is very much worth following as his ideas and thoughts in this space are terrific. Also, hearing about the work Narissa Leung has initiated at her setting around letting students have a greater voice when it comes to students being curious, thinkers and wonders is great. Because really, what other schools give their kids a pile of bricks and say “off you go, have fun!”. My tip, not enough. Her blog post about some of this work can be found here.

So what are my plans from here? Honestly, I am not sure. Again, I love all of the above and what it can bring. Ideally, to have some form of Makerspace set up at each of my campuses, or perhaps one major one that can be utilised at by all campuses would be great. To hold our own College ‘Maker Faire’ would also be a great experience. Much like a Google Science Fair. To have students engaged in creativity, imagination, invention and construction and showcase the learning that they took from being involved.

As Seymour Papert once said, “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready made knowledge.”

While we’re on the quote train, one quote of Gary’s that really resonated was this – “Walking through a school and watching students can be like watching balloons deflate.” Meaning, that the ideas and thirst for knowledge that our students have are not developed and encouraged in school. But rather they are ignored and pushed to the wayside for more ‘general’ topics to be discussed and taught. Yes, we have a curriculum to attend to to, however, like Papert’s quote above, we can certainly steer students in the direction of where and how they develop this ‘needed’ knowledge rather than simply tell them the answers.

And lastly, as if I needed anymore convincing that this whole ‘Makerspace’ thing is a great idea, according to the recently released Australian Governments 2015 Intergenerational Report when talking about Productivity, “We (the Australian Public) have to be more productive to ensure we do not fall behind, to create new opportunities for jobs and to drive our incomes higher.” If we are to do this successfully, we as educators within this country need to ensure we’re developing students who’ll thrive in a future world. Students who can think differently in innovative and creative ways to develop new ways to complete current and new tasks.

Yes, a little off topic, however if you’re interested in the Aus Govs Intergenerational Report, the amazing Dr Karl Kruszelnicki sums it up in a 15min video, embedded below.

I’d love to hear from those engaged in a Makerspace and how they are not only going about integrating a Makerspace type environment into their setting, but what exactly the students are getting out of it in terms of learning.

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