The Makerspace Movement

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Makerspace, or focusing on a “maker mindset,” involves learning and spaces where students gather to create, invent, and learn. Makerspaces are often found in libraries or other common areas in a school. They are also set up regularly in classrooms and flexible in their design or use.

Ultimately, a maker culture focuses on design and opportunities that both engage and empower students. This creative learning can vary greatly and may include both high tech and low tech examples such as;

  • writing a fairytale using Lego Story Starter
  • coding using an input/output device such as Makey Makey
  • designing 3D imagery with a 3D printer
  • creating a stop motion animation using an app such as Smoovie
  • inventing something brand new from “take-a-parts” or cardboard.
  • composing a song to show understanding of a concept
  • producing a movie using green screen and a platform such as iMovie
  • working collaboratively with a team to build a bridge; as long as possible, in a limited amount of time, using a finite amount of materials
  • creating a beautiful piece of art using a variety of mediums
  • designing a campaign to solve a school-based issue or concern
  • recreating the setting of a novel in Minecraft Edu
  • building a replica of a famous structure

Establishing a making mindset in schools provides for endless possibilities all built upon imagination, creation, collaboration and innovation in an engaging learning environment.

The idea of students as creators is nothing new. Classrooms, libraries, art rooms, dance studios, theaters, band rooms, and industrial arts labs have served as “makerspaces” for our students at varying degrees and in a number of different ways for many, many years. But what is new is the urgency to ensure that our present day classrooms invite a making culture and that moving forward all classrooms shift from a passive learner model to one where students are at the centre in a stance of active learning. This is essential as we strive to meet the diverse needs of our learners in our ever changing world. We know we need to change our focus and our approach in order to meet our learners’ needs and the demands of our society. We need to support our students in becoming the globally aware, creative, adaptive, resilient, digitally fluent, flexible thinkers necessary in today’s reality. Initiating programming that prioritizes students as makers is one opportunity to do so.

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Makerspace is not about a “space” and it is not about “stuff”:  it is about a “making mindset”.  A focus on ‘making” pushes past the traditional structure of student as consumer of information. It is a culture focused on student as creator. It is about ideas. It is about the joy and exhilaration of putting something new into the world and the rich learning that goes with the experience of doing so.

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Makerspace is not about a one size fits all model where all learners are doing the same thing: it is about honouring our students as individuals, differentiating our approaches and valuing the opportunity and structure of having kids learning and doing different things at different times.

Makerspace is not about being stuck in the perspective of “that’s the way we have always done it” such as following traditional instructional structures. It is about shifting that lecture, that worksheet, that textbook assignment or those end of chapter questions to learning opportunities that are more active, more student-focused, and more creation driven. It is about flipping those traditional approaches and opening the door to creativity, critical thinking and problem solving for our students early on and giving students the opportunity to learn THROUGH the creative process.

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Makerspace is not about “sage on the stage” or teacher as the imparter of all knowledge: it is about the teacher as facilitator, “guide on the side” and coach, ultimately putting students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

Makerspace is not about learning fitting neatly into subject areas and prescribed learning outcomes: it is about offering our students a number of possibilities, putting the appropriate materials and opportunities in their reach, and helping them make the connections.

With a strong basis in the theory of Constructivism (Vygotsky & Piaget), Constructionism (Papert) and Inquiry-based learning, hands-on learning such as makerspace initiatives offer students unique learning opportunities in which they can construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. Using a Makerspace model allows a student to ask questions, find ways to answer those questions and carve their own path while producing something to demonstrate their new learning. Teachers can not only step back into more of a role as facilitators or coaches but quite often as learners themselves.

Supporting our students in developing a maker mindset also gives learners the chance to develop a special skill set that is so necessary in today’s world. These skills include critical & creative thinking, project management, flexibility, agility, innovation, risk taking, and resilience. Giving our students more opportunities to create builds essential skills and competencies which are embedded throughout the curriculum. Learning focuses less on specific content related outcomes and more on drivers of learning, and key essential skills.

We can look to 4 key pillars that serve as foundational pieces of a learning environment that emphasize students as creators:

  • 4 C, Competency focused, Deep Learning – a focus on Critical & Creative Thinking, Communication and Collaboration
  • The Design Thinking Process – steps in a process which students use that has universal application, regardless of what they are creating (bridge, sculpture, poem, tower, campaign, animation etc.)

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  • Reflection & Metacognition – reflective practice gives students the opportunity to think deeply and reflect upon their own thinking, doing and learning and plan for next steps.
  • Personalized, active, inquiry-based learning – students’ individual strengths, interests, skills, driving questions and passions direct their own learning experiences

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When we personalize learning opportunities, let students take initiative and focus on building knowledge through creation instead of only consumption we support learning for ALL. We can look to the example of the Ecole Victoria Albert Learning Commons Makerspace for inspiration. It recently received an Honourable Mention for the CEA Ken Spencer Innovation Award and is a flagship for makerspace development for both Winnipeg School Division and the province of Manitoba as a whole. Vic Al’s diverse community of learners has benefited greatly from the makerspace in their school building. This dual track school of 400 has a high mobility rate and one of the largest newcomer populations in the city Winnipeg. About 70% of the school’s students are EAL and 25% are First Nations. They received 60 Syrian Refugees in 2016 alone.

Renee Sanguin, Inquiry & Innovation Support Teacher at Victoria Albert School explains, “The programming at Victoria Albert School promotes access to learning which is deep, inclusive, equitable and empowering for all. It opens doors for learners in a very personalized and experiential learning environment. The foundational tenets of deep learning driven by Makerspace have transformed the school from a traditional teacher-directed model to one where students are at the heart of all planning and learning. The focus is on “learning skills” that will prepare students for the future of change that is their reality.

The Victoria Albert initiative is an example of a transformative learning environment aimed to help support and prepare our learners with the modern literacies, skills, competencies and attitudes necessary for students today.” (Sanguin, 2016)

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When we focus on learning through the creative process we can approach curriculum and learning outcomes in an innovative way. We can support numeracy by making connections to problem-solving, computational thinking and reasoning. Through coding, robotics and game-based learning students are able to utilize a number of math skills in relevant and engaging platforms. Students also can practice and consolidate a number of math concepts and applications in meaningful contexts while estimating, measuring, building, revising, constructing and applying numerous math skills in real world situations.

In the way of literacy, the possibilities are endless. Using Lego students can build a beginning, middle, and end and incorporate all elements of a story in this unique medium before capturing their story with images, text, and written or oral documentation. Students can ask questions to drive their learning and then find answers by researching, interviewing, reading, viewing and listening. Students have opportunities regularly to capture their work and the steps they have taken through procedure writing.

Learners read instructions. They write instructions. They draw diagrams. They label parts. They storyboard, write scripts, perform and do retakes. They reflect deeply through writing, sketch noting, video or apps such as Adobe Spark or Seesaw. They network and connect through social media, digital portfolios, video conferencing, blogging and more. In a making context, the visible learning that takes place in the way of literacy learning and beyond is endless.

When we offer students opportunities in our schools and classrooms to learn through making, inventing and creating we promote student ownership, student agency and developing autonomous, self-directed learners. It is an opportunity for students to manage their own personalized learning in an active, student-driven, empowering environment. It is a chance to support deeper thinking and foster curiosity with minds-on, hands-on tinkering, and constructing. Makerspaces or promoting having a “making mindset” is a powerful learning opportunity for our 21st C learners as they become creators, critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, communicators and most importantly life-long learners.

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Building Digital Leaders

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If you aren’t familiar with Black Mirror it is a British television anthology series, currently on Netflix, that features speculative fiction that focuses on modern society, and the often unanticipated consequences of new technologies. It is thought provoking, highly relevant in today’s rapidly changing world, and definitely worth checking out.

It has left me  thinking a lot about the unchartered waters our youth, their parents and their teachers must navigate as part of the digital age that is our reality. This is something I consider constantly in the work I do but it is also a focus in supporting my very own “digital natives”, that being my eleven and thirteen year olds at home  My kids use Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly and YouTube regularly, therefore so do I. I make a point of it.  How can I best support them if I don’t understand these platforms myself? At home, we have open, specific and continuous conversations about social media etiquette, on-line responsibilities and the idea of developing a positive digital footprint. I follow them, I encourage my own friends to keep an eye out and I check their accounts regularly. Perhaps, based on my line of work I am the exception, not the norm. What role are most parents taking in the digital lives of their children?  

Like with any new learning, kids need practice.  They need modeling.  They need feedback.  They need guidance and support.  Not surprisingly my two have made mistakes along the way.  This seems inevitable as they make their way through this “training wheel phase”. I am grateful for these hiccups, as it gives us the opportunity to have real, contextual and meaningful conversations around what it looks like to be a responsible digital citizen.  I would much rather have them make these mistakes right now at age 11 in a scaffolded, protected setting, then at age 18. We see it time and time again.  One photo…one offensive remark…one case of bad judgement…one mistake… and a life is changed forever.   We don’t have to look far to find examples of people making bad choices in a digital context for the world to see. We don’t have to look far to find examples of people using digital platforms to spread negativity, hostility and hate. Sure, a handful of these may be kids, but for the most part these people are adults.  How do we break this cycle? As parents, how do we best support our children in becoming responsible digital citizens?  What role do, can and should schools play in this pressing and critical issue?

Digital citizenship is most frequently defined as “ the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use”.  The term is used in many contexts and may hold a variety of meanings to many, however the image below captures the nine elements most frequently associated with the term.

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In today’s world is being a “digital citizen” even setting the bar high enough?  It is difficult to argue with the fact that each of the nine elements are important.  Following guidelines to keep us safe and healthy, being responsible, becoming digitally “literate”- these are all essential and support the status quo. But are these nine elements the best we can aspire to for our students?

In his work, George Couros, talks a lot about the notion of Digital Leadership and “how we need to push our students to make a change in their world and highlight how social media can give them an opportunity that we never were given as students.  Just being “citizens” online is the average; kids already exist online.  We should be pushing for much more than this.”  

He defines Digital Leadership as…“Using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others… http://sumo.ly/cpJu

We see examples of the youth of today harnessing the power of our digital world for good. In this post entitled, “Focusing on What Students Can Do”  George Couros says, “What I try to do is share stories of students who are making a difference right now! Like this teen who created the “Sit With Us” app, to help students find welcoming students to join during lunch. Or the 9 year old, “Little Miss Flint”, becoming a voice of a city and educating people about the water crisis in her city of Flint, Michigan.  Both of these young people are not waiting to become the leaders of tomorrow; they are grabbing these opportunities today. Our goal as educators should be that these stories are not the exception, but the norm. By raising the bar and our expectations for our students, we are more likely to get there than by simply telling them what they should not do.”

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There is much work to do. Work that must be done in collaboration. We must come together as families, as educators, as schools, and as communities to empower our learners to make good choices, daily in their digital world. This is our call to action.

Moving forward, how do help create a generation of not only digital citizens but “digital leaders”? How do we encourage, train and support today’s learners to rise above taking the power and reach of today’s digital world to slander, damage, embarrass, ostracize, hurt and bully others and instead use it as an opportunity to connect, share, celebrate, support, empower and learn from with one another?

In order to move our learners as digital citizens towards digital leaders we need to support them in moving from a passive stance to a place of action.  In moving towards a place of active digital leadership our youth need to develop the following skills and attitudes:

Autonomy

A digitally autonomous learner has a strong understanding of how the choices they make influence themselves and others, and are able to consider a variety of perspectives. They are self-determined learners that take responsibility for their own online decision making, independently.

Communicative, collaborative, critical, creative (4C) Mindset

The learner uses technology  regularly to communicate, and collaborate with people beyond their immediate environment in positive ways. Building these networked, learning communities builds communicative skills, shared connections and a global perspective.

In an online world the learner has continuous opportunities to actively use critical thinking skills including; conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the information coming at them. The learner must employ these skills regularly and skillfully when making choices online.

Pushing past, the more passive role of a digital citizen as consumer, a digital creator regularly puts new content into the world and extends the creator’s own positive digital footprint.

Contemporary Lifelong Learning

In today’s dynamic, rapidly changing world our contemporary lifelong learner must be committed to the continuous development and improvement of the knowledge and skills needed to be a dedicated digital citizen and leader.

Next Steps…

How do we best support learners in navigating this online world and working towards being not only digital citizens but digital leaders? Like with any new learning, children need practice.  They need modeling.  They need feedback.  They need guidance and support.  In Kayla Delzer’s blog post “Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom Twitter & Instagram Accounts” she outlines how she uses  a “gradual release of responsibility to systematically turn the ‘social media reins” over to her grade 2 students.” We need more teachers like Kayla, modeling positive use of social media to celebrate and share the work of young students. We need classroom teachers having regular conversations about current events related to the topic of the online world.  We need more schools where the “THINK” poster outlining things to consider before you post online, is just as prolific as a poster related to reading strategies or math problem solving steps.

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I often hear pushback from teachers who say that schools have enough to do in teaching kids the content areas, literacy, numeracy etc. and that there is already too much on their plates.  The reality is that schools in fact,  are  in the business of teaching the whole child.  We historically and continuously support students in social, emotional, physical, and cognitive areas.   We teach pro-social skills, time management, citizenship, drug education, nutrition, human sexuality/reproduction, teamwork, mindfulness and the list goes on.  And in fact, information technology and the ethics and responsibility that it go along with it are nothing new to schools’ mandates. And while programs like MediaSmarts, Kids in the Know etc. may be valuable but they are not enough.  Where we need to see the shift is away from specific, canned programs that teach digital citizenship, internet safety, acceptable use etc. as skills in isolation in separate lessons out of context, and instead model real world, authentic digital leadership within the walls of our classrooms.  Many or most of our students own devices and the the reality is that these devices are a highly influential component of their world.  This issue isn’t going away.  This is our call to action. We must empower our learners with the skills, attitudes and direction necessary to lead in our digital world. We need to get to a point where we no longer need to use the world “digital”, before citizenship and leadership and it is merely engrained in the essence of all we do.

As classroom teachers, we have no choice but to dive into the world of connected learning.  For many, this may be uncomfortable, For many, this may be terrifying. New learning often is. But today’s reality is that technology and mobile devices are the equivalent to the pencil of days past. We must embrace opportunities for networked learning both for ourselves and our students.  When we choose to model the use of social media from the classroom for sharing and collaborating online, WITH our students starting at a young age, we normalize the positive, intended use of these platforms.  It becomes how we do business.  When we choose to give our learners the opportunity to blog or create digital portfolios at a young age and we model the responsibilities that come along with this, we help prepare them for the world that IS their present as well as their future.

These are unprecedented times.  These are times of change.  These are times for action. Moving forward, it is essential that we come together as a community of learners to best support and empower our digital learners.