Upon hearing Sylvia Martinez share her story of supporting educators in encouraging student centred exploration and creating, I was equal parts inspired and angry. Angry is a bit harsh and sounds extreme but it’s true. And it has very little to do with Sylvia herself or the message she was giving and a lot more to do with what I see around me. Let me explain further.
Sylvia is the co-author of Invent to Learn, the how-to resource of the maker movement and one of the best selling EdTech books of 2014. She travels across the globe working with educators on how to best use technology to allow students to explore and create and maximize on the power of doing. This active form of learning, one where students grapple in the physical realm as well as the mental, has been tremendously well received
Sylvia video conferenced in to my EDCI 569 course recently. She talked at length about the projects she has been a part of, the benefits of providing students a learning space where they can “make”, and the transformation in education she is witnessing. Much of what she shared resonated with me. The inquiry-based learning model my students experience offers them the choice in exploring a learning path they are passionate or curious about. Every year I witness a handful of students opt for something that parallels Sylvia’s focus. Whether it’s a student who choses to rebuild a car, a student who produces a soundtrack for their driving question, or a student who creates a piece of art to symbolize their learning, IBL allows students the voice and choice necessary to personalize their learning.
The more I listened to Sylvia and was inspired by her stories, the more I reflected on where the maker spaces currently exist in my school. We have a number of facilities on the premisis that fit the bill: an auto shop, a woodworking shop, a metal/tech ed shop, an art room, a photography lab, a Mac Lab, a silkscreening and textiles room, a culinary space, science and chemistry labs, and even unused spaces that could be transformed in to something useful. And this is where I became angry.
All too often student learning is structured around things that have little to do with their learning at all. We’ve heard from Sir Ken Robinson about the pointlessness of bell schedules, grouping by grade, and categorizing learning by subject. If I challenge my students to explore their passions and curiosities, then I need to be prepared to provide them with the space and support to do so. But what if that space is being used by another class? Or the structure we have built only allows student access if they are enrolled in a particular class? I celebrate a student when their learning takes them beyond me and our classroom. We need to provide greater access to the tools and spaces that support each particular student’s learning path. Learning commons, cross disciplinary collaboration, multi-access learning paths, all come to mind when I think of how I can achieve this transformation. Moving from face to face to online learning isn’t what I’m going after here. I’m referring to a shift from a synchronous to asynchronous learning environment, one where students are empowered to access the tools they need, precisely when they need them, to personalize their learning.
And I believe this can be done in my school, without changing the bell schedule or timetable, and without turning the whole system over on its head. Stay tuned to see how.
And thanks to Sylvia for the inspiration, for helping me see what other amazing educators are doing, and for helping me reflect on what we have in our own building that can be accessed to support the makers in my room.