Learning through making
Creating deeper learning experiences
Farida Danmeri looks at the link between constructionism and ‘making’, analysing how one enhances the other for effective learning.
‘The educational system that teaches kids to be passive recipients of knowledge worked when most workers were sitting in assembly lines’ – Seymour Papert
Going through the motions of learning
Practices of the outmoded 1800s classroom remain deeply entrenched in today’s education system. The current reality for many students is they are still being taught in a standardised and industrialised manner. Pupils are encouraged to retain information transmitted by the ‘expert’ teacher, where the memorisation of isolated and unlinked facts leaves little time for exploring subjects in depth. We can train pupils to obediently regurgitate facts to pass exams, however, are these the skills they need to lead successful lives? Do we want to develop learners that simply go through the motions without engaging in any critical reflection?
Poor critical thinking
Throughout the pandemic, conspiracy theories have become more prevalent than ever before. What has contributed towards people’s widespread susceptibility to fake news? Perhaps reduced opportunities for critical thinking in education. Educators are constantly reminded of the vital skills our students will need for the future of work such as complex problem-solving, creativity, communication, collaboration, self-management, critical thinking and analysis. How can we empower our students to develop the skills they need for the future?
The Maker movement
According to constructionist learning theory, learners can construct new knowledge across subjects through personal inquiry and creativity, and by sharing or using ‘learning artefacts’ such as a model. This student-centred learning approach, termed ‘constructionism’ was developed by the mathematician, computer scientist and celebrated educator of the MIT Media Lab, Seymour Papert. Research suggests deeper learning experiences rooted in constructionism, as opposed to merely receiving knowledge, foster students’ skills for the future.
These learning experiences can be designed through encouraging play, testing, exploration and innovation. Not surprising, then, that the principles of constructionism have strongly influenced the Maker Movement, which has evolved into a global community in which members creatively design and build projects. The culture of making promotes transformational learning through collaboration and knowledge exchange. It also empowers local communities and contributes towards economic development.
‘Making’ can be incorporated into formal education and is also known as ‘learning by making’ or ‘hands-on learning’. Having an official ‘makerspace’ in school isn’t essential for enhancing students’ skills for the future. More important is creating the culture of making. Making fosters student agency through encouraging them to create their own research questions and actively seek the answers themselves. Students involved in ‘making’ typically find that there often isn’t a single correct answer to complex problems and will learn to embrace mistakes as opportunities for self-reflection and improvement. Deeper learning occurs when students can apply their knowledge to real-world challenges beyond the classroom.
Given the constraints of curricula, lack of resources, and time restrictions it might be thought that successfully incorporating this ‘culture of making’ into lessons is just unrealistic. However, real-life examples exist of international educators who have achieved this in both formal and informal environments. Primary school teachers Camila Cerezo and Malena Cerezo from the Instituto Esteban Agustín Gascón, Argentina, took an interdisciplinary design approach to connect their students to the history of the Aztecs while creating links to maths and art. Pupils explored how different nets can be used to build 3D shapes while reflecting on the history of the pyramids of Teotihuacan. They experimented with building and decorating their own pyramids in groups with limited resources. Finally, they discussed and shared how they could improve the overall pyramid-making process.
Ousia Foli-Bebe, a Togolese innovator, built the MoLab, a mobile STEAM Laboratory. He trains and empowers students through innovation and ‘tinkering’. Ousia designs deeper learning experiences by encouraging students to apply what they have been studying in school to extracurricular robotics projects. One example of this work involves students exploring animal locomotion through creating a robot that moves like a specific animal such as a crab. Through this project, students developed their understanding of the relationship between mass, animal shape, size, joints and movement while developing their physical computing skills.
In our own hands
Designing deeper learning experiences is in our own hands. Literally. But this can be difficult when working in isolation. Fostering an environment for collaboration and knowledge exchange amongst educators can play a key role in designing impactful learning experiences that develop our students’ skills for the future. For this reason, the book ‘A Year of Making and Learning’ was written. The book shares the practical steps taken by a diverse community of 24 educators from 15 countries spanning six continents in designing hands-on learning experiences. The book features contributions from Wissenschaft im dialog, Baby Lab, WMG at the University of Warwick, EcoTec Lab, Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, Fablab Winam and Jerry Do it Together, amongst others.
Calling all makers!
The experiences provide a diverse perspective on how we can foster deeper learning experiences through making in both formal and informal environments. By connecting international educators to the maker-centred learning stories of others, we hope educators will learn from each other’s experiences, and create opportunities that prepare our students for today and the future.
Farida Danmeri is the Editor of ‘A Year of Making and Learning’ and Founder of Learning Connected, an online platform for educators to connect, share transformative knowledge, and enrich the learning experiences of their learners.
You can find out more about Learning Connected at www.learning-connected.org
‘A Year of Learning and Making’ is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.
All images kindly provided by Farida