Friday, May 06, 2022

an innovative 21stC maker ed pathway (part one)


Part One paints a brief historical overview of the development of the new maker education over the past 50 years.

Maker Ed 21stC: Although making is older than the wheel, the 21st C version combines something old (making) with something relatively new, digital technology. This combination opens up a broad range of new fruitful educational pathways.

50 year history: This new version of education (Maker Ed) recently celebrated its 50th birthday with the publication of a new book edited by Gary Stager (20 Things to do with a Computer: Future Visions ...) with contributions from roughly 50 authors from multiple countries.

The founding initiators were Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon with their prescient 1972 article (see reference section). The ideas and practice are not new. But, as so often happens, due to declining costs of the technology, these ideas are now far more accessible. (Footnote: see Blikstein’s 5 reasons for this trend)

Bits and Atoms: Both software (then called logo) and hardware (the floor turtle) were there from the beginning. There has been a massive proliferation in both software and hardware since.

The original floor turtle (1969)

Coding: The original logo software has been through several iterations. The current most popular version is Scratch 3. The Scratch website kicked off in 2007. Today, with more than 43 million registered users, Scratch is now the world's largest creative coding community for children.

Block coding: Scratch has popularised block coding. Sadly, it seems that many teachers and education administrators still don’t understand the significance of block coding. Many still believe that coding is difficult and hence mainly for geeks. But the proven reality is that block coding makes it accessible to 99% of students. It is easy to build an engaging project in 10 minutes.

Year 7s can make the cat walk in 10 minutes

Microcontrollers: Although arduino has been around since 2005 the advent of the micro:bit (2014) and Circuit Playground Express (2017) marked a further advance due to the relative ease of block coding and controls on the board itself (buttons, touch, accelerometer). From early 2016, up to one million micro:bits were distributed to Year 7 students (or equivalent, aged 11-12), non-formal education settings and libraries across the UK in a project led by BBC Education

The micro:bit

Proliferation of block coding: In conjunction with the micro:bit Microsoft developed MakeCode, another block code variant.

Hardware: After the floor turtle, Seymour Papert then collaborated with the LEGO company to produce computer controlled robotics (LEGO TC Logo, 1985). Since then the floodgates have opened. There are so many computer controlled kits on the market now that it is hard to keep track and teacher’s do need guidance to evaluate the educational pros and cons: Makey Makey, Arduino, Little Bits, Ozobot, Micro:bit, Chibi Chip, Circuit Playground Express, Lilypad, Bee-Bot, Dash and Dot, Sphero, Edison, Drones – add or choose your favourite

By the way, with Scratch 3 a lot of hardware can be connected and controlled (Makey Makey, the micro:bit, LEGO Mindstorms EV3)

Fab Lab: Neil Gershenfeld (MIT) created a new course in 2003 called “How to Make Almost Anything” and found people queuing to take it. Since then Fab Labs have been growing exponentially around the world! Yes, exponentially! Fab stands for Fabrication or Fabulous, take your pick. The five machines found in a Fab Lab are the 3D printer, the laser cutter, CNC machine, Digital Embroidery machine and the Vinyl cutter. The ability to make almost anything potentially alters the relationship between consumers and producers.

A Fab Lab

Note that the most popular machine in a Fab Lab is not the 3D printer but the laser cutter, due partly to the quick production times

Maker Movement: The modern Maker Movement was created around 2005. The movement has a regular magazine (“Make”) and holds regular Maker Faires (“The Greatest Show-and-Tell on Earth”). In his chronology Dale Dougherty lists some of the many companies, websites and technologies that have grown up around this movement: Spark Fun, Arduino, Instructables, Adafruit, RepRap Darwin 3D printer, DIY Drones and many more.

Fab Learn Lab: Paulo Blikstein developed the Fab Learn Lab for schools (2008). A Fab Learn lab has the same machines as a Fab Lab but in the desktop variety. If schools value an activity then they build a space for it: Science labs, PE spaces, computer labs etc. A Fab Learn lab doesn’t have to have all the capabilities of a full Fab Lab, but needs to have enough to put students onto that pathway.

Part Two will focus on new courses that emerge from 21st C Maker Education environments.
Part Three will delve into the optimal teaching methodologies to deliver these programmes.

Footnote: According to Blikstein (2018), the interest in the creation, dissemination, and popularization of makerspaces can be attributed to five trends:
  1. the greater social acceptance of ideas and principles of progressive education;
  2. countries’ interest in establishing a base for an innovative economy;
  3. the growth of public awareness, in addition to the popularity of computer programming combined with the creation and production of artifacts;
  4. the sharp reduction in the cost of digital information and communication technologies (DICT), as well as digital fabrication technologies (DFT)
  5. the development of tools that are more powerful and easier for students to use, along with studies and publications in academic research focused on the effect and impact of these new technologies on learning
Blikstein, Paulo. Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention (2013)
Blikstein P. (2018). Maker Movement in Education: History and Prospects. In: de Vries M. (Ed.) Handbook of Technology Education. Springer International Handbooks of Education. Springer, Cham. Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)
Dougherty, Dale. Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is Changing our Schools, Our Jobs, and our Minds (2016)
Make Magazine
Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. Harvester Press, 1980.
Papert, Seymour & Solomon, Cynthia. Twenty Things to do with a Computer (1972)
Stager, Gary (Editor). 20 Things to do with a Computer: Future Visions of Education Inspired by Seymour Papert & Cynthia Solomon's Seminal Work (2021)

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