Edutopia on Makerspaces

From “School Makerspaces: Building the Buzz” on the Edutopia site by Blake Auchincloss and Lisa Yokana:

Just because you create a makerspace in your school doesn’t guarantee that your community will embrace it. Students who have had all personal choice removed by traditional educational models can be passive and feel overwhelmed when faced with real-world problems or design challenges. Academic passivity is common in schools where students swallow content and regurgitate it on multiple-choice tests. Students simply want to know how to get the “A” …

Teachers may find the role of facilitator (or “guide on the side”) uncomfortable if they are used to being the “sage on the stage.” New technology in these spaces may be intimidating. Teachers need encouragement and professional development to change their mindsets and become facilitators of learning.

I was glad to see folks raising the issues of buy-in and the cultural contrast between grade-driven culture and makerspaces’ process-oriented one. I’m always supsicious when people tell me their makerspace is just perfect … 

What do you think?

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Noodling about DIY Circuit Blocks as low-cost option for safe, hands-on exploration

When Michigan Makers was in DC in June, we saw the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Circuit Blocks at Capitol Hill Maker Faire and National Maker Faire … now we’re noodling with our Ann Arbor District Library friends about them as possible alternatives to the start-up LittleBits kit or Snap Circuits. Here are some links we’re exploring:

Overview from Children’s Innovation Project

Don’t want to make your own? Buy them.

Circuit Boards at the Exploratorium (different name but same principle)

Posts on circuit blocks from MAKESHOP at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

What do you think? Sound intriguing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Must read: “I wonder about the maturity of the Maker Movement”

Wendy Tremayne (author of The Good Life Lab) writes on the Make blog:

Today, I wonder about the maturity of the Maker Movement. The fantastic, sticky explosion that follows the combining of Mentos with Cola might be a necessary entry point to capture the imagination of our children, and maybe we needed to slap batteries on LEDs backed by magnets to enjoy a creative moment of making light art. These tinkering’s could be necessary stages of growth for a generation learning that they can make anything, but then what? I like to consider what my heroes would say of our use of this time in which cheap, accessible, powerful technology is in easy reach. Would Buckminster Fuller enjoy the Mentos show? What would Carl Sagan say of the way we apply our understanding of robotics? Today, new generations are raised without barriers to creativity. Can we show them what value is so that they use their might to grow food and produce clean energy? Can we prepare them to create the social and ecological solutions we need to protect the vitality of the life of the earth? Or will they squander what has been passed on to them? It is up to us. Our kids can become Makers of purpose.

This post comes a day after I asked a colleague, “Are we at the point where any activity, as long as it includes an LED, counts as making, even if it’s prescriptive?” so it resonates deeply with me. I work in the maker movement because I believe it empowers people, and I’m struggling with feeling out-of-step when I find the LED + battery projects thin.

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Making in Advertising: HGTV HOME by Sherwin Williams

I’m fascinated that the “maker” moniker is seeping into popular culture. I’ve written about this before here and here. Here’s the latest I’ve found, from the HGTV HOME paint collection made by Sherwin Williams.

This ad reminds me of the imminent clash I’m anticipated between the original makers (often making/repairing to buck commericalism) and the mainstream movement, like HGTV, the cotton industry, or Chrysler adopting making into their work. The “be bold” portion of the ad, for example, features neutral paint and classic furnishings — not quite the larger-than-life fire-breathing dragons and Mousetrap games of Maker Faire!

 

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SLJ.com: Annie Murphy Paul on making and learning

Education reporter Annie Murphy Paul has written for School Library Journal’s maker issue on the intertwining of making and learning. It’s worth reading to get a reality check on what past research informs us. If we are to bring making into the formal school day in an era of strict accountability, this question rises in prominence: “If it’s in school, where kids should be learning, what is tinkering getting us?” This question is also bubbling up in some high-level conversations I’ve had lately. After all, on a purely pragmatic level, what incentive is there to funding tinkering for the sake of tinkering?

Some excerpts:

There’s no doubt that students find making to be a creative and engaging activity. But as they tinker, design, and invent, are they actually learning anything?

Making is too young a phenomenon to have generated a broad research base to answer this question. The literature that does exist comes from enthusiastic champions of making, rather than disinterested investigators. But there are two well-established lines of research … that can inform how we understand making and help us ensure that making leads to learning…

I would add that there are probably other areas of past research that we can draw on: arts education, creativity thinking, and self-paced learning, among them.

[C]ognitive load theorists warn that activities that are “self-guided” or “minimally guided” … may not lead to effective learning … Novices are, by definition, not yet knowledgeable enough to make smart choices about which avenues to pursue and which to ignore. Beginners … may also develop new misunderstandings along the way. In all, self-directed maker activities may have students expending a lot of time and effort—and scarce cognitive resources—on activities that don’t help them learn.

Second, cognitive load researchers caution that learning and creating are distinct undertakings, each of which competes with the other for limited mental reserves … Absorbing and thinking about new knowledge imposes a significant cognitive burden… When students are asked to do both at once, they tend to focus on meeting the goal, leaving precious few cognitive resources for the reflection that leads to lasting learning. Student makers may produce a handsome model airplane having no idea what makes it fly. The best way to ensure learning, these researchers maintain, is to provide direct instruction: clear, straightforward explanation, offered before any making has begun …

With three years of maker mentoring under my belt, this makes sense to me, especially when working with students with low threshholds for frustration. With those students, I find myself mentally running through tasks to identify when a demonstration or a few minutes of direct instruction gets them over humps and back on firmer ground. An additional aspect of direct instruction that Paul doesn’t outline here but that bears mentioning is that some maker activities can be unsafe for young makers without direct instruction and supervision. Learning to solder on one’s own may sound like an awesome opportunity for student initiative and agency, but soldering irons operate at extreme heat, so mentor guidance helps ensure safety. In my book, that’s a fair trade-off: I’m willing to sacrifice some temporary agency for safety.

I would also add that teaching building blocks via mini-lessons helps to build the skillset and confidence for individual making. It’s OK, in my book, to demonstrate how a Squishy Circuit works (temporarily adult-driven) if, by in the long run, kids have the basic understanding that will let them go off-roading without us.

A second line of evidence is called productive failure. This research has mostly been carried out by Manu Kapur, a professor at the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and has principally concerned mathematical problem-solving … Kapur gives students a difficult problem without any explanation at all. Working in teams, the students are tasked with devising as many potential solutions as possible. Typically, such students do not arrive at the textbook or “canonical” solution—but instead generate more inventive approaches. Only then does Kapur step in and offer direct instruction on the best way to solve the problem.

I believe this approach is also found in Japanese lesson study.

Kapur has found that presenting problems in this seemingly backwards order helps those students learn more deeply and flexibly than subjects who receive direct instruction … the teams that generated the greatest number of suboptimal solutions—or failed—learned the most from the exercise …

This happens for three reasons, Kapur theorizes. One: Students who do not receive teacher instruction at the outset are forced to rely on their previous knowledge … Two: Because the learners are not given the solution to the problem right away, they are forced to grapple with the deep structure of the problem—an experience that allows them to understand the solution at a more fundamental level when they do finally receive the answer. And three: Learners pay especially close attention when the instructor reveals the correct solution, because they have now thought deeply about the problem but have failed themselves to come up with the correct solution. They’re eager to find out what it might be, and this eagerness makes it more likely that they’ll remember it going forward …

[T]hese two bodies of evidence actually complement each other. Some tasks, like those concerning basic knowledge or skills, are better suited to direct instruction. It may be better to provide explicit instruction on how to operate a 3-D printer, for example, than to have students figure out the directions on their own.

Ha – there’s also a pragmatic thought that comes to mind here … some maker equipment is hardy and can be pushed to its limits again and again without harm. LEGOs, Tinkertoys, and fabric can be endlessly manipulated, assembled, disassembled, and reassembled without falling apart. But … 3D printers have a magical appeal, but some are still finicky in how they get used. Let one kid “just guess” at its function, and you could end up with a broken printer that precludes anyone else from using it. :)

We should tell student makers exactly how to perform straightforward tasks, so that they can devote cognitive resources to more complex operations. Meanwhile, tasks that themselves demand deeper conceptual understanding are likely to benefit from a productive-failure approach …

Once students begin making, we can carefully scaffold their mental activity, allowing them to explore and make choices … within a framework that supports accurate and effective learning … The scaffolding lightens learners’ cognitive load until they can take over more mental tasks themselves. This approach actually dovetails with the apprenticeship model that inspired the maker movement:

Yes! So glad to see apprenticeship pop up in the maker conversation.

students learn to create under the guidance of a master, taking on more responsibility as their skills and confidence grow … they have models to inspect and emulate—again, especially early on, when the mental demands of learning are high…

What do you think?

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Vintage Government Poster: Women at Work

World War II poster encouraging women to work; public domain

Recruiting poster calling women to work during World War II from the Office of War Information.

Public domain image posted by Vintascope; h/t BoingBoing

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YALSA blog: Articulating what has been learned when teens make

Linda Braun writes:

In some instances I think it’s hard for some library staff to articulate the gains that teens make as a result of the making programs we provide. And, as a result it ends up that we talk about the actual printing activity and the printer and not the skills learned and/or improved on. It certainly can be difficult to speak to the learning instead of the “coolness” of the making. But it can be done …

Read her ideas here.

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Video: Three Things to Think About When Starting a Makerspace

Video with maker advice

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3Doodler inventor on the human urge to make

3Doodler pen inventor Max Bogue:

Everyone is a Maker. As a species, we make things. We started out making spears and bows and arrows. There’s something internally that drives us to make and develop and to fix and to solve things.

Read more at Makezine

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Digital Badges + Youth + COPPA = Family Badges?

For a long time, I’ve struggled with how to create community interest in digital badges during formative years of youth because COPPA regulation limits the information web sites can collect from youth under age 13. How can we grant digital badges to students younger than 13?

My thought was to give out badges to families, not individual children, and I wrote this up last winter to capture my thinking … then forgot about it. Thought I’d resurrect it here and see what others thought about this as a possibility.

You can read it as a PDF here or continue reading below.

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A Design for Family Badges

Kristin Fontichiaro, University of Michigan School of Information

December 2014

 

Introduction

The national enthusiasm and momentum for the digital badging movement has been building over the past few years. Drawn in part from “leveling up” and leadership boards from video games and from the scouting movement’s long tradition of recognizing experiences and skills via merit badges, the Open Badges movement looks to recognize learning as it happens anytime, anywhere. What differentiates the Open Badges movement from these siloed approaches to earning recognition is the underlying infrastructure. The Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI), maintained by Mozilla, allows badges from any OBI-compliant software or web system to be moved into a central storage location (http://openbadges.org). In this way, badge issuing systems can be custom-made to accommodate the needs of issuing institutions and organizations, but the created badges can be ported into a central system on the user end, allowing the user to flexibly share, cluster, configure, and showcase them.

 

 

The Challenge

One of the challenges underlying the OBI movement – and, by extension, the infusion of Open Badges into K-12 learning – is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), designed to protect the interests and identities of children under the age of 13. Many OBI-compliant systems and, indeed, Mozilla’s OpenBadges.org, do not permit children under 13 from creating accounts.

 

Although the fear of online predators who imperil children seems to outweigh the reality (Internet Safety Technical Task Force 2009), the wisdom of having children’s names linked with organizations and hobbies may not be a welcome practice for protecting privacy during formative years.  Additionally, many children already rely on their parents for transportation at events, and an individual badge approach minimizes the opportunity for families to work collaboratively toward badge challenges and achievements. Finally, children under the age of 13 are often too young to be thinking about how to leverage badges to unlock access to advance coursework, to college or workforce opportunities, so badges do not serve a practical purpose. However, collecting badges can be a fun and engaging way to stretch beyond familiar activities and into new ones.

 

So how can we get students excited about open badges when there are barriers to adoption? The answer may lie in family badges.

 

 

A Vision for Family Badges

A solution may lie in organizations working at the family level, not the individual level, to issue badges. Many families travel together to local cultural events, maker festivals, concerts, museums, and more. Instead of each member of the family earning individual badges and running up against the COPPA and privacy problems, perhaps the family establishes a family account and, as a family, engages in organization-sponsored challenges. A catalog of badging opportunities across a metropolitan area can make families aware of a wide range of possible activities, and challenges can be structured to guide families into more meaningful interactions. For example, a badge from an art museum might only be earned if families visit an exhibition. Research into family zoo and museum visits from the late 1980s indicates that many families do not engage with the exhibitions for a great length of time. Instead of issuing a family badge merely for attending, the badge’s metadata might prompt the family to engage more deeply with a particular exhibit or artifact. Perhaps they would submit a photograph showing the sketches they made in front of a given painting as evidence, which can increase engagement and concentration on a work in the collection.

 

 

Family Badges and Broadcasts

The use of family badges makes new kinds of multimedia interactions possible. On a broadcast or digital transmission, a TV show or movie could be paused, a QR code flashed onscreen that links to a badging activity, and the family encouraged to respond to the content, add comments, or, in the case of live productions, submit questions or plot suggestions. This can open up traditionally passive viewing experiences and make them more interactive to improve learning. Use of badges can help TV or online broadcasters get real-time feedback about the interests and engagement levels of viewers, develop richer connections between families and content, and create an environment in which educational programming in particular has a whimsical and family-centering component.

 

 

Transitioning From Family to Individual Badges

As students reach the age of 13, they would have experience with badges and are ready to gather badges not for fun but as part of a college- or workforce-preparation program. At this point, they might initiate an individual account and begin collecting OBI badges themselves, having had years of experience seeing how badges can offer up new opportunities and enjoyable pathways to learning.

 

References

Internet Safety Technical Task Force. 2009. Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies: Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States. Berkman Center ofr Internet and Society at Harvard University. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/pubrelease/isttf/.

 

For more information, contact:

Kristin Fontichiaro, University of Michigan School of Information, font@umich.edu

 

Read this document as a PDF.

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