Learners and mentors

Students in Maker Education are regarded as responsible individuals who are concerned with their own development as individuals and as Makers. The teacher is no longer solely responsible for developing curriculum specifications.

One important core responsibility of the traditional teacher that the Maker Education mentor does not carry over is that of preparing the student for standardised tests.

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.

“What is a teacher? I'll tell you: it isn't someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello

In Maker Education, is the teacher necessary? What does it mean to be a teacher in a Maker education environment?

In conventional education, the teacher is tasked with transmitting knowledge to the student. The teacher has the primary responsibility for selecting, creating and delivering the curriculum that the student must absorb and learn. In most countries, the responsibility for selecting and creating the curriculum for the students falls upon a central education authority, in which case the teacher is responsible for the delivery of this curriculum to the students.

The teacher is also responsible for preparing the students for standardised tests and for evaluating students’ performances. Another important responsibility for the teacher is to provide individual support to each student in order to help them reach a minimum standard of competency in a particular subject area. This support is both academic and psychological, requiring the teacher to take on the role of surrogate parent. As a surrogate parent, the teacher is also responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the student during school hours, and for communicating with the student’s parents on issues relating to their child’s academic and psychological development.

In a Maker Education-style environment, most of the responsibilities that teachers are accustomed to and expected to perform remain. The teacher is still responsible for the safety of the student, for providing psychological and academic support, and for communicating academic and psychological development issues to the parents. However, the Maker Education teacher is no longer primarily responsible for setting the specifics of the curriculum, for preparing the students for standardised tests and for evaluating them based on those tests.

In Maker Education, the teacher is the facilitator, or the mentor, that assists the students in their own learning journey. The traditional curriculum is replaced by a student-led exploration, just like Leo and Ari’s explorations that I described previously.

Being a mentor makes the teacher a far more important person in the student’s (mentee’s) life. As a mentor, the teacher becomes an advocate and champion for the student. The mentor is the person who will provide the ongoing encouragement that the student needs, especially when things get hard. The mentor provides or finds the necessary resources, like equipment, books and access to online tools, and advises the mentee when appropriate. As a champion, the mentor will advocate for the mentee whenever an opportunity arises, for the sole benefit of the mentee. And of course, the mentor will also play devil’s advocate, and challenge the mentee as they try to get past important junction points in their learning adventures.

The mentor and mentee relationship is two-way. The mentee has to learn how to nurture this relationship. The mentee must work in order to develop the various skills and knowledge outcomes that they want to achieve. Whether it is developing skills in mechanical design or canvas drawing, the mentee/student is solely responsible for working out what it is that they want to achieve.

The mentee is responsible for communicating these goals to the mentor, as clearly as possible. The mentor can help the mentee in determining these goals, but must be careful not to be a strong influence who actively steers the mentee towards a particular direction. Goal setting should be fully aligned with the mentee’s intrinsic passions.

The mentee is also responsible for identifying the resources that they need and discussing them with the mentor, who will then work towards providing them.

Continuous learning is another responsibility of the mentee. The mentee should take advantage of every opportunity presented to them to learn. It could be a newspaper article on a topic that they care about, a TV documentary or an opportunity to make something. Whenever or wherever this opportunity comes from, the mentee is solely responsible for the decision to take it or not.

In Maker Education, students are regarded as responsible individuals who care about their own development as persons and as Makers.

One important core responsibility of the traditional teacher that is not carried over to the Maker Education mentor is that of preparing the student for standardised tests, conducting the tests and evaluating the performance of the student based on those tests. Maker Education does not have formal testing. This does not mean that the maker student’s work is not evaluated on its merits. Far from it. Because a core outcome of the student’s work is the physical artefact, the evaluation of this artefact is a proxy for the student’s ability to understand and act on what it is that they are learning. If the artefact is a working machine, does that machine work as intended? Is it using the most appropriate materials and components? Is the workmanship good? Does the machine look pleasant to the eye? What can be improved?

Any physical artefact, whether a machine, a drawing, or a musical composition, can be evaluated based on specific criteria that can be communicated.

But the most important way to evaluate maker work is to submit it to the evaluation of others. This is often done by staging school or makerspace exhibitions. It can be done by publishing details of the work in blogs, the school website, or the school’s Youtube channel. Text, video, audio, photogram, illustrations, all come together to document and communicate the outcome of a student learning. Makers will show the world what they have made, and the world will provide constructive feedback.

This type of evaluation ensures that a student’s performance is not evaluated in the form of a standardised test, but based on the place that the artefact takes in the world. The attendees of the exhibition, the readers of a blog post or subscribers of the school’s Youtube channel, will use their own criteria to evaluate the artefact, thus will be able to offer their own unique perspective to its creator. This kind of feedback is invaluable and cannot be obtained through standardised tests.

Standardised tests are often out of context (i.e. the realities experienced by the student) and are usually designed to allow the teacher, school or other authority to conduct them at a large scale, repeatedly. The purpose of a standardised test is to classify students, not to help them grow.

Of course, there are certain minimal learning outcomes that must be achieved before a student is able to take on more responsibilities. For example, the student must be able to read, write and calculate at a minimum level before they can go on to conduct their own research and development work. Skills such as reading, writing and calculating are taught in a formal way, compared the informal learning environments in a Maker Education environment. However, even this area of learning, that mostly affects children younger than 10 years of age, is changing. Technologies like the C-Pen Reader make it possible for children with developmental delays, like dyslexia, to be able to read without assistance. With a C-Pen Reader pen, the student can access any printed book without teacher or parent help.

Online resources such as Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica also have accessibility features that make it possible for children who can’t read to use them via text-to-speech interfaces. Modern computer operating systems also have similar accessibility features.

Thanks to such technologies, the barrier to entry into self-managed education from an early age is lower than it has ever been in the past. The traditional teacher, transformed to a mentor, is the student’s/mentee’s partner in their learning journey, not the driver.

Interesting readings

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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