Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Power of Making

Today's blogger is Leslie Preddy, library media specialist at Perry Meridian Middle School, Perry Township School. She is the 2015-2016 President of the American Association of School Librarians and a Past President for the Association of Indiana School Library Educators (AISLE). You can reach Leslie at lpreddy@perryschools.org or find her on Twitter @lesliepreddy.

School libraries are powerful places of thinking and learning. It is the place where curricular needs and personal interests are expanded and cultivated. It is where students can think, share, and grow knowledge. With the expansion and incorporation of makerspace thinking, along with equipment, tools, technology, supplies, and resources, the learning also expands to creating and doing. This is when scholarship is taken to the deeper and more personally invested level of learning we educators are always seeking for our students. Making takes the traditional learning and mental thinking into real-world application with hands-on development and action. As Dr. David Sosby of the Northwest Invention Center stated, “Research and experience consistently show that learners stay engaged, exhibit more curiosity, and learn more effectively when they are addressing challenges that they meet with kinetic action.” This is the power of making.

Building understanding as a maker is intellectual flexibility while learning from experts by reading, seeing, and consulting before doing, contributing and sharing. So the question becomes, how do we do this in a school setting? How do we grow a maker environment? How do we teach the next generation to not just be consumers of information, but contributors as well? This can be done by developing intentional levels of learning and support through makerspace opportunities: guided, independent challenges, and self-directed.

Guided: Learning and Building Knowledge
I often say, “Students don’t know what they don’t know.” A young person needs to know something exists, something is possible, so I start by exposing them to tools, ideas, and resources. Before student makers can become independent, they need guidance, direction, and training. Often, students need developmental, lower level, basic skills experiences to broaden their horizons, develop a core base of skills and understanding, and learn about things they otherwise may not even know exist. This is where there is a very specific activity. Everyone does the same thing with a predesignated outcome. Students sample skills and experiences while basic skills for the concept are introduced. There are step-by-step instructions with personal guidance and training throughout. For example, to introduce electronics, all participants make a greeting card with LED lights and while doing so learn the basics about electrical polarity and conducting electricity.

Independent Challenges: Deepening Knowledge and Advancing Skills
Once a student has established basic skills through a guided project, she is ready for an independent challenge. In a challenge task, a student takes what has already been learned to further develop related skills and deepen knowledge on the subject through research and completing another make presented by the makerspace coordinator. The challenge is phrased as a task with a final goal in mind, as well as some recommended, preliminary resources. For example, digital learning pathfinders to facilitate personal growth can be made through digital tools like Symbaloo. From there, it is up to the student to research how and what to do, work out necessary steps, plan for tools and supplies required, and experiment with thinking and making. Taking learning to the next level, the student may successfully complete the make, or may fail, but learn from that failure in order to try again. To see examples of makerspace pathfinders for a variety of topics, click here).

Self-Directed: Experimentation and Personal Inquiry

Key to the evolution of successful learning and development as a maker is a self-directed make. At this phase, the student is ready to generate their own ideas and set an independent project goal. Learning continues through personal inquiry, designing and creating a product of personal choosing, and creating through creativity, inventiveness, experimentation, further development and improvement of skills, and trial and error. The student has grown completely autonomous throughout the development of the concept, goal setting, learning and research, and making. He still needs mentoring and guidance but is making many personal choices independently, including setting a personal plan of inquiry. Thinking like a scientist or researcher, this personal plan includes a timeline, budget, resources, and hoped-for learning outcomes and make construct. The student will problem-solve, troubleshoot, and stretch creatively. He will build on previous make and learning experiences as he expands his knowledge base to make new thinking and knowledge. He may even share his new expertise and mentor other students.

According to a 2013 Gallup study, “Nearly half of America's students say they want to start their own business or invent something that changes the world” and yet students say they have very few opportunities “to develop their entrepreneurial energy.” Through the prospects of learning a school library makerspace affords, students can actually think, learn and practice by doing, which increase the brain’s ability for that specific thing, task, and skill. Check out the uTEC Maker Model here to better understand how students begin by using, but with the right resources, guidance, and mentoring, can progress toward tinkering and experimenting. With a lot of hard work, passion, and support, some students may even achieve the level of creating and contribute something new and purposeful to the world.

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