What is learning through doing? 

 April 2, 2018

By  Peter

Inventors are revolutionaries. They change the way we live by solving everyday problems. Their inventions are proof of what is possible when the mindset and way of thinking goes against the grain of the established way of doing things.

Henry Ford showed that cars can be made in massive numbers and cheaply at a time when car manufacturing produced expensive cars for the few and the privileged. On a different scale, Elon Musk showed that private space flight is possible at a fraction of the cost of that operated by governments.

In education too, it is now possible to think against the grain. The fundamental components for building superior educational experiences now exist. Educational materials, like textbooks, lecture videos, and computer programs, are plentiful and easy to find across multiple delivery channels. And the opportunities for hands-on experimentation and learning are also abundant.

Maker Education marks the evolution of a remarkable education paradigm that addresses the core of the problems in conventional education by applying the principles of inventor learning.

We can trace its beginnings to 2006, in San Mateo, in the San Francisco Bay area. This is when the first Maker Faire event took place. A year earlier, the hallmark Maker publication, Maker Magazine, was published for the first time. Maker Magazine was inspired by the century-old Popular Mechanics magazine.

The social success of Maker Magazine is that it gave millions of people a name for what they do, an identity, and a subculture. People have been making things and tinkering for thousands of years, but through Maker Magazine these people assumed a stronger identity.

The magazine, as well as similar other publications, defined the Maker Movement. The Maker Movement is a social movement that includes independent inventors, tinkerers and designers from all walks of life, educational or cultural backgrounds. These people tend to define themselves as ‘Makers’. While they resemble the computer hackers of the 60s and 70s, the generation of whom created the pioneers of personal computing and the likes of Apple and Microsoft, makers create real-world artefacts using technologies that a few years ago belonged in industrial research and development labs.

Makers use technologies like three-dimensional printers, CNC cutting machines, laser scanners, laser cutters, open source software tools for designing models of objects like printed circuit boards and enclosures for electronic parts, and cheap, massively produced components. Makers favour open source technologies whenever they can find them, or they create their own when they can’t.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the Maker Movement is the effect it is having on education. Maker Education favours a hands-on approach to learning. It advocates that learners take responsibility for their own learning by solving real-life problems. Just like makers are self-reliant problem solvers, in Maker Education learners are in charge.

In San Diego’s High Tech High, students are makers. The makers, ranging from kindergarten to Year 12 students, learn by “making, doing, building, shaping and inventing stuff”. Principal Larry Rosenstock, CEO and founder, explains that students spend most of their day working together on projects that give them the opportunity to apply knowledge that comes from different traditional ‘disciplines’.

These disciplines are normally taught separately in conventional schooling, neatly separated by textbooks, classrooms and instructors. High Tech High is more like a 12-year-long kindergarten. Just like in kindergarten, children have the freedom to explore their curiosities. Throughout their time at High Tech High, students retain that freedom.

In a typical day at High Tech high, a humanities and an engineering teacher work together to devise a project for their students. The humanities teacher’s objective is to encourage his students to learn about the ancient civilisations of the Mayans, Greeks and Romans, and specifically their rise and fall. The engineering teacher wants his students to learn about geared systems and how to use them to transmit energy.

Their combined project involves challenging the students to create a physical contraption in which interlocking cogwheels tell the stories of these civilisations. As the wheels turn, a different era is recounted. The students are broken down into groups of five, and begin their research: history and engineering, self-directed.

Each group may return with a different interpretation of the objectives, but in each case the assignment is solved, in their own way.

What happens at High Tech High is an example of how Maker-style Education works. Self-directed learning, a conducive learning environment in which the educator is there to provide the direction and just enough support to help the student pursue their learning interest, and where the learner can find the tools they need to create their inventions.

Collaboration is built into the environment, with teamwork designed so that learners support and motivate each other. This is an example of how a high-performance work environment is used to achieve high-quality learning outcomes.

What is the outlook for students like the ones in High Tech High? Or any other young maker?

Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, observes how the world’s greatest innovators evolved through childhoods filled with creative play which led to the development of deeply entrenched curiosities. These became intrinsic motivations that guided their life and career goals throughout their lifetimes.

Perhaps more importantly, because as children these innovators were used to constant failure and recovery, like failed experiments, failed assumptions and failed materials, they developed to be rugged adults, able to not just cope with the setbacks of life but to persist and thrive. For them, what others see as difficulties or problems are opportunities for learning and growth.

Indeed, in Maker Education environments, failure is not punished with a low grade because it is just another opportunity for learning.

Does this maker environment sound like something you would love to implement in your classroom or child’s learning? To find out more about how STEM education could revolutionize your teaching or child’s education click on this link and book a 30 minute consultation with us.


Doing, Learning, Through, What Is

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