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 collaborative and connected.
Learners reach deeper levels of understanding when they have opportunities to ask questions, discuss diverse viewpoints, address misconceptions, and solve problems together.
Research shows the benefits of collaborative student efforts, with learners working together seeing greater gains in both skills and content knowledge. These connections, however, need not be limited to those within the confines of the school building. Maker Promise partner organizations are building and supporting maker learning communities, bringing diverse voices and perspectives together and encouraging collaboration between schools and their communities. Through events like Remake Learning Days and the National Week of Making, makers are learning with one another on a scale that just a few years ago would have been difficult to attain.
Maker learning’s collaborative nature spurs students’ desires to acquire new skills to better contribute to a team. A student participating in an integrated robotics course shared that he “wasn’t prepared for programming, but eventually…had to help [his] team, so one day [he] took a step and…learned how to program.” His teacher elaborated, stating “if the kids honestly feel that they are taking part in something special, unique, and meaningful, they’ll go to the end of the world for you and their classmates.”
Collaborative making also creates a powerful project-based learning experience for students. In the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s video “Why Make? To Learn Together,” Brian Wolovich, a Grade 6 teacher at Quaker Valley Middle School, cites the importance of moving past “Do It Yourself” (DIY) to “Do It Together” (DIT) as a reason to embrace maker learning. Opportunities to engineer solutions in small teams, with all of the benefits and struggles that comes with collaborative work, scaffold soft skill acquisition and better prepare young learners to enter an increasingly connected workforce. Educators are even incorporating real-world, team-based engineering methodologies like the Scrum methodology (a variant of Agile development) to model and build student capacity to work together to build a product.
Technology allows makers and learners to connect across vast distances. Many educators use video conferencing tools to connect their classrooms to the world. Students at Mundaring Primary School in Mundaring, WA, Australia, and Skyline Elementary School in Solana Beach, CA, USA connected to share the board games they developed in a “Play to Learn” design exchange. Connecting overseas with web conferencing software, the groups of students played each others’ games and received feedback from a stakeholder group with whom connecting would previously have been incredibly difficult. The project was a catalyst for not only improved design thinking but also learning more about people with different cultural backgrounds.
Technology can also allow us to create with makers around the world. We the Builders, a large-scale sculpture collaborative, creates connections between 3D printers to produce co-constructed works of art. The Rosie the Riveter project, if completed solely by a local group of makers, might have resulted in the traditional representation of a white female. Connecting makers from around the world resulted in a more diverse representation of Rosie, bringing together people from all walks of life under a powerful message. Creating connections within and between classrooms and communities while learning through making can only amplify the power of a maker learning experience.
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 collaborative and connected maker learning experiences are the Buck Institute for Education’s Project-Based Learning Rubrics (particularly the ones focused on teamwork) and Week 4 of the MIT Media Lab’s Learning Creative Learning course.