Making must be about a can–do mindset, pedagogy and content


Last Saturday I attended the ICTENSW Conference at Sydney University – it is the first time I have attended this professional learning activity. Stimulating. Not just because of the nature of the presentations but also it was a chance for me to meet face-to-face many amazing teacher tweeps I have followed for the past few years or so.

Sessions at the conference ran across two days and covered topics like: student directed projects, project-based learning, the computational thinking challenge, EdCamp, 3D printing, digital literacy, QR codes, BYOD/BYOT, robotics, AR, Minecraft, coding, digitech and global collaborations. Many students were there with their teachers and they provided terrific tech support and learning to delegates. ICTENSW 2015 was a bit of a techie fiesta in every sense of the word.

Quite a number of conference sessions were devoted to Making. The establishment of designated Makerspaces in schools is taking priority in many schools across Australia. I refer to Making in my new book in the context of it being a form of ‘thick play’ (Mackey, 2009) and in Gabby’s classroom it was a key feature of her practice. I also note a Maker Faire was held at the White House in Washington on the 18 June last year. Obama is certainly a ‘just do it person”.

Maker Faire

The Maker Movement’s mandate is all about highlighting the role Making can inspire in young people to be more entrepreneurial and excel in STEM education. Typical interests of a Maker culture include pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3D printing as well as more traditional activities like film making, metal working, wood working, calligraphy and traditional arts and crafts. It emphasizes learning through doing (constructivism) in a social environment and is consistent with Piagetian theories, with John Dewey’s ideas and of course, lead maker and constructionist, Seymour Papert.

Martinez & Stager (2013) tinkering continue to remind us of how important it is to provide students with a learning environment grounded in action and making, and tinkering fits within that discussion. They quote Angelo Patri, the first Italian born school principal in the US who said: “playrooms and games, and animals and plants, wood and nails must take their place side by side with books and words” (p.4).

Matt Richards, a teacher and champion of Making teaches at a K-12 school in Port Macquarie – he explained how to set up a Makerspace and why he runs a team of ‘tech ninjas’ to ensure its success. I was interested to hear him remark that it was a female librarian in the US who established the first Makerspace. Love … school librarians always on the front foot in the technology in learning space in schools in my experience!

Often the library does become the Makerspace in a school and a number of public libraries in the US have designated Makerspaces. I couldn’t help but think that in many ways a Makerspace in a school is the equivalent of the Men’s Shed Movement in local communities – we just want to ensure that in schools lots of females are welcomed into the space and have the opportunity to make. Matt made an interesting comment about how he believes “making things is forcing us out of the consumerism we have lapsed into as a society”.

girlsDan Bowen, an amazing tech whizz,  ran continuous, very popular and engaging Making sessions after his keynote presentation on Saturday and shared a new playbook with delegates that can be accessed here. The resource remixed under Creative Commons covers the origins of the Maker Movement, using the space as a focus for community, what kinds of tools and materials you need, as well as safety, roles and projects. He drew our attention to developing a maker mindset and the work of Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor whose book Mindset and the ideas of developing a growth mindset are very popular in NSW DEC schools at the moment. It is built on the ideas of “what can you do with what you know”. Making is a social experience, built around relationships.

danDipping back to Martinez & Stager (2013) for one moment – we talk a lot about learning in schools but not a lot about thinking. How do we know what children and young people are thinking? We don’t know.  Making is a way of making thinking visible: “a way of documenting thinking of a learner in a shareable artifact” (p.46). Attempts to transfer thinking patterns are highly evident in Science and Maths classrooms and a further reason why STEM education is and must continue to be a key priority in education systems around the world. Teachers working in the Makerspace in schools carefully link Making to content from syllabus documents and pedagogically as a teacher it’s about making learning ‘less us, more them’ – students work on projects and have opportunities to get into ‘flow’.

Some teachers in Sydney have held very successful Maker Days or Hacker Days at schools already – these are not shown n’ tell activities – this learning is about creativity and collaboration – setting up quick projects on the day that students can do on the spot – lots of ideas in Invent to Learn.

Another great resource from a cultural and media perspective is Julia Walter’s FabLab book. At the University of Western Sydney there is great deal of activity in SCEM and staff are working together to make resources in the Makerspace available to students in various courses but also to the wider community that includes local schools.

Is there …. a space in your school … in the library perhaps? In the meantime I am looking forward to ICTENSW 2016.