An introduction

My understanding of technology as a child revolved around my parents' video cassette recorder and television. Everywhere I looked, there was technology that made life easier, but it was obviously in desperate need of radical improvement.

Schools today do not prepare students for the future; rather, they prepare them for the past. Educators can contribute to the development of an educational system that instills in its students the qualities that we want to see in a child. I decided to write this book because I believe there is a better way to learn and teach.

Maker education revolution

Conventional education is struggling to provide the learning environment necessary to help raise the future innovators, problem solvers, and entrepreneurs that advanced societies need. Maker Education offers a model for education in the 21st century.

When I was a kid, my understanding of what technology was revolved around my parent's video cassette recorder and television. TV stations back then would transmit a test card image. This image contained a pattern of boxes, circles and lines that a TV technician would use to fine tune the TV receiver to the channel. I remember that I could never fine-tune the receiver so that the lines were actually straight because the screen of our TV was curved. All TVs back then had curved screens because of the way that cathode ray tubes worked. There was no such thing as a flat panel display. Somehow intuitively, I knew that other people would be as frustrated about this as I was. I was sure that engineers were working on this problem. I wanted to be one of them.

Something similar was happening with the video recorder. It was an impressive machine at the time. It had an LCD screen for showing the time elapsed of a movie. It had the ability to program it with the start and end times and day of a program I wanted to record. But I vividly remember my dissatisfaction with its many shortcomings. The recording medium was a thin plastic tape inside a plastic case, with a lid that would open to expose it. The assembly was fragile, large, and expensive. The quality of the recording would degrade with use over time. The programming interface was terrible so that only someone with ample time to play with it, like a child, would ever be able to understand it and use it. I was sure that someone, somewhere was working on this problem, and I wanted to do that too.

Everywhere I looked, there was technology, albeit simple by today’s standards, which made life easier, but that was clearly in need of radical improvement. Being a Star Trek fan did not make things easier. The transporter, the communicator, the talking computers, the replicator, the scanners and all the amazing things on board the Enterprise resonated with me and gave me a vision of how things can be.

A few years later, my parents bought me an Apple //e, one of the early home computers. I still have that computer. Along with it came a couple of programming books. The programming language was built-in to the computer. It was Applesoft Basic. I started programming it right away, and I felt a bit like Scotty, the Engineering Chief on the Enterprise. Now, that was technology. Now we are getting somewhere. Steve Wozniak became my new superhero, replacing Spiderman.

A few years later, I bought an electronics kit to make an LED blink with a 555 timer IC. All the documentation was basically the assembly instructions of which components go where. There was nothing about timers, LEDs, etc. I had no access to the Internet, no electronics book, and I did not know anyone who had some knowledge on these things to ask. Despite that, this is what technology was to me. Whether in a kit with all its components mixed, or perfectly assembled into a beautiful computer, I knew some engineers out there had done what needed to be done to get us closer to my Star Trek ideal.

From the video recorder to the Apple //e and then to the 555 integrated circuit, I quickly developed an intense interest in engineering and programming. But I had no access to documentation and had no-one around me to ask for help. Not only that but at school, none of my teachers was able to help me. They were all excellent in their particular subject matter, mathematics, history, geography, science, but none of them had ever touched a computer.

The fact that my school was ill-equipped to help me learn how to program my computer, or to give me some basic pointers around electronics, is simply an example of how schools do not really prepare students for the future. They prepare them for the past. I have memories of thinking how firmly I believed that computers were the present and the future, and how bored I felt at school because none of my strong interests in technology was met. School was dreadful. I felt that I was sacrificing my best hours, every day, for a purpose that I did not understand. Perhaps school was about accumulating grades; perhaps it was about, other than for gathering marks. My boredom had affected my ability to learn, and my lack of interest made it impossible to get a grade better than average. My parents were averagely thrilled about that.

I knew I wasn’t stupid. I was able to learn a lot on my own. I was lucky to have parents that had no reservations about buying books and magazines. I had an encyclopaedia, a subscription to a foreign computer magazine (I remember the difficulty of buying foreign currency to pay for it), and programming books. My software collection grew and included the Logo programming language. I found a book that taught me how to do low-level programming on the Apple //e, manipulating bytes and working with 6502’s op-codes. I found perhaps one of the first science kits for a home computer, that could measure temperature and lung air capacity (I used that to train my ability to hold my breath for what seemed to me like a very long time). Home was heaven. Home was where learning was actually happening, disguised as play, at least after my school homework was done.

Today, while schools have not changed fundamentally, the sheer opportunities for learning are truly stunning. Not only there is an abundance of resources, from Arduino's to robots, to connected everything, but there is a wealth of knowledge in video, text, illustrations on your computer, your iPad, even on paper, but people with knowledge are within instant reach.

The experience of sending my own children to school reminded me much of my own school years. The fixed curricula, the separation of subjects, the focus on delivery rather than the individual, the lack of sufficient time for play and exploration. The list can go on. This recent negative experience with school was also amplified by my children’s dyslexia, which made it even harder for them to develop a happy relationship with learning. Learning, under these circumstances, was externally enforced. It was painful. It was seemingly pointless. And it was distracting them from the things that were most important to them.

I decided to write this book because I was convinced that there is a better way to learn and to teach. Just like engineers succeeded in creating flat screen TVs, and improved computers and networks to the extent that we no longer need video cassette players and recorders, I was convinced that there were educators who had solved the problems that I mentioned earlier. Educators who realised that learning does not need to be painful, that children with different learning needs can be cared for. I was convinced that there are educators who can help in creating an educational system that instils its students with the qualities that we want to see in a happy and successful individual rather than the specific bits of knowledge that they need.

My conviction was not arbitrary. I had spent the last 15 years as an educator myself. First as a University lecturer, and now as an online instructor. I witnessed both the limitations of traditional education as well as the potential of Maker-style education when combined with modern educational technology. My conviction is that after the pain of the past, we are now entering a golden age of education. An age in which education is better aligned with its real purpose of helping to shape happy and creative individuals. An education that helps the learner to learn how to think critically, solve problems independently but in collaboration.

An education that helps people to think like a scientist and implement like an engineer.

Technology plays a huge role in this education. I have visited high schools where I could see the effect that technology has on the quality of learning that student can achieve. Imagine four or five teenage students gathered around a wheeled robot. They are making the final preparations ahead of a yearly robot competition. They are each working on a particular subsystem, but they all understand how the robot works as a system. There's always one student that goes deeper than everyone else. He or she does the troubleshooting, can move wires around before anyone knows what's happening, does the last code modifications for an instant performance improvement. And guess what she wants to do? Become an engineer.

I wrote this book because I had to. I needed to organise my thoughts around what a modern educational system should look like. I wrote it so that I can systematise the elements that can help my children, with their special learning requirements, not just cope but to thrive in a world full of opportunities of any kind, but especially learning opportunities. I wrote it for my young self, struggling to keep my love for learning and curiosity alive.

I wrote it for teachers who are dedicated to creating awesome learning experiences for their students. For parents who care not just about their children’s academic achievements, but also for their overall development as happy and creative individuals with their own unique set of passions and curiosities. I wrote it for the learners themselves, who are perhaps discouraged by their experiences in school and wonder if there is another way.

I sincerely hope that this book will help you change your view of what modern education should look like. Because with every successful learning, there is change.

Peter Dalmaris, May 2017

Maker Education Revolution

Learning in a high-tech society.

Available in PDF, Mobi, ePub and paperback formats.

Using Maker Education as a model for education in the 21st century, Dr Peter Dalmaris explains how teachers, parents, and learners can apply the educational methods of inventors and innovators for the benefit of their students and children.

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