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 “What learning occurs when students are ‘making’? We all love to play and make stuff but in doing so do students learn through making and how do you measure that learning? Making things is often a collaborative process and learning happens on the go. Learning through making needs to be purposeful and not prescribed or incidental but incremental and built through these experiences (Martinez and Stager, 2013)

When working with students special needs I realised that they needed to learn things with me that resembled the real world, not the world of traditional education where subjects are separated out into Maths, Science and English and then the students are expected to generalise their learning into their lives. The makerspace I created shares the ideals of making, tinkering, collaborative learning and invention. 

What is the theory underlying the maker movement?

Piaget (1976) advanced the idea of new learnings be rediscovered or reconstructed not just taught to the student. The theory of Constructivism tells us that the student constructs knowledge inside their heads based on their experiences and goes on an internal process of sense making. Talking and working with students helps to construct and cement new knowledge. 

Seymour Papert (1980) took this one step further towards action when he developed the theory of constructionism with the message being ‘learning by actively constructing knowledge through the act of making’. Learning by making doesn't say you can’t do this because your no good at maths or reading. This educational model requires me as a teacher to take risks and use those teachable moments (just-in-time) as they happen rather than teach just-in-case when what I teach they can use later. This is much more than hands on learning as the power of making comes from a question usually from the student but in the case of the students with special needs I work with, I intend to start by asking the questions. For example “How can you make the boat go faster?”, I like the way that looks, can you make it look better?”

What type of classroom environment do I need to make?

To create an environment where I am seen as not having all the answers and that getting something wrong is also ok is going to be the biggest challenge for the students I work with, not because I expect to be seen as having all the answers or I that I expect them to get it right but because some of the students do not have the confidence to believe they know the answer and some think getting something wrong is failure. In allowing the students to experiment, play and take risks I hope to give them permission to trust themselves. To see themselves as learners who have good ideas and can turn those ideas into reality. To let the students know that there can be more than one right answer to a problem so they will feel safe to experiment. 

I hope to move from ‘making’ where the students manipulate new and familiar materials to create something, with support in the form of visual instructions, to “tinkering’  where the students try something they don’t know quite how to do and there are no instructions. Tinkering is an iterative approach which requires risk taking, reflection, problem solving and reworking. 

What’s next?

To explore how to measure the learning that occurs through ‘making’ and ‘tinkering’…….

Martinez and Stager (2013). , Invent To Learn.

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