Saturday, October 3, 2015

Maker Movement: Bring it on!

image from Mrs. Wideen's blog
The Maker Movement seems to be all the rage in education. I've read about it in my Twitter feed and seen many articles about it in Feedly. I've always been drawn to the philosophy of "learning by doing". It drives my teaching and presenting. I feel that hands on lessons and workshops are far more beneficial than "sit and get". I get the Maker Movement and I'm glad to see it happening!

For the past 4 months I've been on my own little maker movement quest. It all started with my daughter's dresser. The drawers kept falling out of the dresser. I tried repairing it, but it's a cheap particle board, so what really can be done? Being a man I figured I could build one for her with my own hands in a couple of weeks. After all, my dad was a wood worker so it must be in the blood somehow, right?

During the months of February and March I researched and planned. I found a design she liked, but didn't like the assembly method, so I decided to build it using a more "fine furniture" type method. Summer break was coming up and I knew I could dedicate hours on end each day to build the dresser and would have it done in no time. Well, 2 weeks turned in to a month, then two months, then a summer time project, then "It'll be done by next week", and finally "I am determined to finish this by her birthday!"  

I am proud to say that I put in the last screw 15 minutes prior to leaving the house to celebrate her birthday on September 30. My 2 week project was finally done after four months.

Along the way I learned quite a bit. I had no experience designing and building anything more complex than a toolbox for some Cub Scouts - and I had to look that up in the book first! Here's an incomplete list of things I had to learn about as I went through the process.

  • SketchUp software to design the dresser
  • what wood was best for a dresser (I settled on poplar)
  • what joints to use
  • how to assemble the entire thing together
  • all about routers, which I had never used before
  • how to join two boards together to make one wide one
  • the different grits of sandpaper and when to use them
  • how to paint (types of paint, brushes, sanding between layers)
  • how to apply polyurethane

I learned so much during this process. By coincidence I even used some of the math my daughter was learning about in her high school geometry class - and I pointed that out to her.

When the process was finally done, when I put the last bolt in to hold the mirror in place, the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction was worth it! I had made something! I had spent time and effort and time on something that now stood before me. I had used my brain to solve puzzles, fix problems, analyze, synthesize, and learn how to do from scratch. It was functional, it looked good, and I had made it!

What does this have to do with educational technology? Plenty. This is an example of what I feel technology in education should be used for - for students to create, demonstrate and showing learning. Wouldn't it be great if students could show the same enthusiasm for learning? Have the same feeling of accomplishment? The same experiences of critical thinking and problem solving?

I've seen a disturbing trend in the last few years that has really bothered me. It seems that more and more schools are acquiring technology in order to put students in front of it in the hopes of "closing the achievement gap". Schools purchase programs such as ST Math, Ascend Math, Read 180, Compass Learning, etc and put kids in front of a computer and expect the program to teach them. More and more those students seem to be the ones who are achieving poorly in school and have to suffer through this. We are expecting the computer to do the teaching instead of the teacher.

Most schools I work with have iPads, anywhere from a 1:1 environment to multiple carts to share among classrooms. I've consulted at several schools to help determine apps to use on the iPads. Usually when I look at what's already on the iPads I see a lot of apps with questionable educational value. I don't feel iPads should be used to "entertain" a student with games. I've written about my app selection criteria before and my recommendations boil down to any app that students can use to create with or show their learning.

I welcome the MakerEd movement in education. I hope it gains some serious traction and doesn't become the latest fade that's cast to the side. This is exactly what technology is for. It is to be used as a tool by students where they can create, explore, and show their learning.

I don't want to be asked What can my students play on the iPad?, What are some educational websites where I can send my students?, or Can you teach my students how to make a PowerPoint? Instead, I want to be asked:
  • How can I get my students to write more?
  • How can my students demonstrate <this concept> to me?
  • How can my students explain the process they went through to do X?
  • How can my students share what they've learned?
Bring on the Maker Movement! I'm ready for it! I'm not a master wood worker by any stretch of the imagination. But my daughter can now store her clothes in a dresser that works!


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  2. I've always learned by doing or just figuring it out on my own. Sometimes I was right and sometimes I failed miserably. Great job on the dresser! I see the progress pics but where is the final masterpiece??

    1. Those pics are at the end of the slide show. Or you can go straight to