Making is as old as learning itself. While the maker movement may only be about three decades old, the human desire to create dates back to the earliest forms of human activity, from making stone tools to drawing on cave walls (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014; Martinez & Stager, 2014). At The Grande Innovation Academy we encourage scholars to think critically and explore through the teaching of the design cycle: plan, build/create, revise…repeat!
Maker education is being used as a way to connect do-it-yourself informal learning to classrooms. Driven by new technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, and kid-friendly coding, making is emerging as an effective way to introduce students to STEM, particularly women and minorities. By incorporating elements of making into the classroom, educators can bridge the gap between what scholars are passionate about and what they’re learning in school.
The Science of Hands-On Learning
At the heart of making is the idea that all scholars are creators. Instead of just memorizing material for a test, scholars are encouraged to use what they know to design and build projects, whether it’s hacking, using up-cycle materials to create something new, or working in a team to solve a problem.
Hands-on learning plays a key role in maker education. A typical makerspace looks more like a workshop than a classroom. The Grande Innovation Academy’s Fab Lab will be bigger and better as we are working on adding machines and tools to improve it’s function. Scholars will also have a Fab Lab teacher who will work with classroom teachers to create engaging lessons to ensure mastery of all science standards.
Research shows that hands-on learning is an effective way to teach students science. A 2009 study found that eighth-grade students who were involved in hands-on science projects demonstrated a deeper understanding of concepts than students who were taught with traditional methods such as textbook readings, lectures, and tests (Riskowski et al., 2009).
Why is hands-on learning effective? We can look to neuroscience for insight. Scholars who participate in science experiments, instead of just observing them, have a deeper conceptual understanding of science. Through brain imaging, researchers found that physical experience activates the sensorimotor region of students’ brains, which helps reinforce what they’re learning (Kontra et al., 2015). If students use their hands as well as their minds, they’re essentially learning twice.
Maker Mindset: Teaching Students to Ask Questions and Embrace Mistakes
Maker education is more than just tools and technology. Dale Dougherty, the creator of Maker Faire, sees making as a way to develop one’s full potential: “Fostering the maker mindset through education is a fundamentally human project — to support the growth and development of another person not just physically, but mentally and emotionally” (Dougherty, 2013).
Making encourages scholars to pose their own questions and pursue answers in an organic way. In contrast to a “single correct answer” approach, making is a mindset, a way to approach problem-solving through experimentation and play. Mistakes are a part of learning, since they show that scholars are pushing the boundaries of their capabilities. Every mistake made is an opportunity to incorporate feedback into a new design, a way to solve challenges previously unforeseen.
In a culture of high-stakes testing, scholars can be too focused on finding the right answers, when they should also be thinking about the right questions.
Questioning can be a powerful form of learning. Research shows that scholars learn more deeply when they can apply classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems. Asking questions provides context that helps reinforce scholar’s learning, and it helps scholars transfer their learning to new kinds of situations, including ones outside of the classroom (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008).
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