As Digital Promise works with educators to close the digital learning gap, we must design learning experiences that engage the hearts and minds of learners through the principles of Powerful Learning. Maker learning, with its focus on students constructing meaningful learning artifacts, is an approach that embodies each of the four Powerful Learning Principles. In this article, we connect maker learning with the principle that learning experiences should be authentic and challenging.
When students are engaged in work that has an audience and impact outside of their classrooms, they are more motivated to persist in overcoming learning challenges.
Our increasingly connected world allows for teachers and learners to break down classroom walls and connect with those in the local and global communities. Growing access to tools and technologies puts high-powered equipment at students’ fingertips, allowing them to authentically create physical and digital products that make an impact in the real world. That sense of purpose and impact fosters higher levels of persistence in meeting challenges, in turn leading to improved learning outcomes.
While innovative technologies allow for transformational learning experiences, an altruistic “purpose for learning” can provide real world relevance that is a true driver of authentic motivation. Students in Peoria Unified School District’s Medical, Engineering, and Technology (MET) Program developed their first kid-friendly prosthetic arm prototype with nothing more than “balsa wood, glue, tape, and hope.” While 3D printed iterations would soon follow, the work began with a desire to help children through a scary life event by creating a functional, affordable prosthesis kits that kids can assemble with their families.
In the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, the students of Churchill High School in San Antonio, Texas came to understand the impact of pollution on their local bodies of water. Focusing on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of “Life Below Water,” these high schoolers wanted to raise awareness of the negative effects that single-use items like straws and diapers can have on marine life. Using 3D printers to fabricate their props, a 360° video camera, and video editing software, the students created the immersive media experience Myrtle’s Waste-FULL Life which was screened at the UN General Assembly as part of the first MY World 360° playlist.
Working on real world issues with tools and resources that range from balsa wood and glue to 3D printers and virtual reality equipment requires learners to embrace the challenge of engineering solutions using what they have available. Sometimes, the challenge is the limitation of the available resources while other times it is learning how to use a new tool or process to create the desired output.
Maker learning experiences that use a version of the Engineering Design Process prioritize an iterative process towards solving challenges. When testing and getting feedback on their products, students are challenged to continuously refine their work to meet their goals. Developing products for others requires students to understand the end users’ needs and make necessary adjustments. Maker learning experiences allow for the cultivation of empathy, tasking learners with the challenge of working to better understand their audience’s unique circumstances.
Students and educators can use the Challenge-Based Learning Framework to structure challenges that address core content and create positive change. Through this process, students Engage with a big idea to identify a concrete and actionable challenge, Investigate their challenge by asking and answering guiding questions, and Act by developing evidence-based solutions. Learners who want to focus on the Big Idea of “Community” might use the Challenge-Based Learning Framework to address the challenge of creating a positive and measurable change in their communities. In the Thriving Together Learning Studio design challenge, students from Saskatchewan and Ontario, Canada used this framing to build prototypes of resilient cities of the future and a mental health multimedia campaign. Creating authentic change and solving real challenges are the heart of making, giving learners agency and Powerful Learning experiences.
Are you looking to start or expand a maker learning program for all learners? Visit the Digital Promise Maker Learning Leadership Framework to access more resources and tools to support your work. Some Framework resources you may find helpful in creating authentic and challenging maker learning experiences are our Challenge-Based Learning resources and Stakeholder Analysis One-Pager to begin identifying real-world challenges to solve and authentic community partners.