LEARNING THAT MATTERS

LEARNING THAT MATTERS

Guest author, Dr, Pamela R Moran, is superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools serving in that role since 2006.  Pam is a leading educator, a visionary leader and takes pride in the work of her teachers and students.  She oversees a division with an annual operating budget of $180.5 million; a self-sustaining budget of $19.2 million and a five-year capital budget of $86.9 million. The division includes more than 1,200 teachers educating 13,700 students in 25 schools.

Pam is a leading advocate of an educational model that prepares students for “success in their century, not mine.” She emphasizes the value of student-led research, project-based learning and contemporary learning spaces that promote collaboration, creativity, analytical problem-solving, critical thinking, and communications competencies among all students. She keeps a blog at http://superintendent.k12albemarle.org/  We are honored to have Pam as a guest author sharing her insights into engaging kids of today for the world of tomorrow.

Inspired learning emerges when young people are curious. So, why would anyone not want our young people to be inspired, curious learners?

After all, curiosity leads kids to ask questions and to follow their urges to make sense of problems as they discover learning interests and passions. It’s in the human DNA to “dig deep” into learning that matters to us. As educators we can leverage this delightful human urgency to learn. Doing so demands that teachers inspire children’s curiosity, an educational value proposition that is a benefit to their learning. This does not happen by chance.

Educators all over the country are discovering that making offers a path to learning that engages, inspires, and sparks intrinsic motivation. As I’ve observed children of all ages engage as makers, I’ve gained insight into why an infusion of making into curricula offers a breadth of opportunities for children to be curious and motivated.

Inspiration to learn should happen because of what we do as educators, not in spite of us.

Unfortunately, teachers’ encouragement of curiosity isn’t likely to happen with any consistency given the intense pressures of standardized approaches to curricula, assessment, and instruction in today’s schools. (For more info about the power of curiosity as a motivator of learning and the impact of decreased curiosity on children’s learning in school consider reading The Hungry Mind by Susan Engle, author)

In my school district, we’ve never considered “make to learn” and “learn to make” opportunities as an extra for kids, an activity to be done when other work is finished, or available only to some kids such as those who get access to the “gifted” class or to a shop course. Making also isn’t a class project in which every one creates the same King Tut mask template but gets a chance to paint it a little differently. Instead, teachers who use making as a learning path set up situations where students have few constraints and broad choice in the projects they create.

I’ve observed our young people make all kinds of projects, some of which they’ve done in response to work they are doing in class, and in some cases, in response to their own interests. Both paths are important. The tenth grader who showed me the tiny house that she helped project manage with peers as they designed and built it from foundation to finish said, “this project keeps me coming back to school every day.” This project also supported students to learn math competencies in the most realistic sense of why math matters. An elementary student using a saw to cut his own giant Jenga set, noted “I’m doing this because I really wanted to make my own game.” At the same time, he was developing geometric conceptual understanding through integrated physical and mental manipulation of tools and 2×4 boards. The teen singer I had the chance to hear recording her own music commented, “making music in a music construction studio in the library gives me a place to create and connect with musicians from all over the school. I learn with them.” Personal confidence and collaborative skills grew as she wrote and performed music.

What does Making contribute as a learning path? What is its value proposition?

The power of making resides in its potential to inspire learners to realistically engage.

Making creates an intrinsic drive to pursue curiosities and interests, promoting both creativity and critical thinking in the classroom.

It provides context for building content knowledge when used as a strategy to “make to learn.”

Kids who make learn persistence through authentic failure (as compared to getting back a teacher-assigned low grade) since seldom does anyone make something without some part of that process not working necessitating continued research and testing of different solutions.

Making teaches the power of collaboration as learners seek and find needed expertise and share expertise with peers, the teacher, or in social media such as YouTube. Through a Maker mindset, everyone becomes a teacher, and everyone is a learner.

Through making, learners build enriched vocabulary, how to ask questions, how to decipher and follow directions in text and video, and how to communicate information and skills to others in the process  and exhibition of making.

Making is as elemental to human learning as image creation, storytelling, movement, and apprenticeship, not an add-on but integral to how people learn. Making is natural, not forced, learning.

When teachers integrate a Maker path with content rather than keeping it apart, they see that engagement rises, content connections make sense, and creativity and critical thinking become the norm, not the exception, among learners.

Making takes many forms in a “P-based” model to challenge kids through problem-focused, project-based, and passion-driven learning. As students design maker projects, they build knowledge, skills, and even empathy as they design and make for others. When I talked to a middle schooler who spoke with passion about a doghouse he had built to keep a pet out of bad weather, I felt his empathy. I also sensed it from a high school student who designed and 3D printed a customized assistive tech spoon for a peer with CP.

We’ve made making one of our 7 Pathways to Transformative Learning across Albemarle County Public Schools classrooms. To learn more about educational making, go to makered.org for free resources and to connect with the maker education community. If you need support to get started with making, there’s always a professional learning network to help! Follow @DrJacieMaslyk to find out more about the new twitter chat #STEAMmakerchat !

Please share your thoughts and opinions