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 inquisitive and reflective.
Today’s students must be able not only to attain new knowledge, but also ask questions that lead to new insights. Reflecting on newly developed and prior knowledge allows us to deepen understanding of what and how they have learned.
The best maker learning experiences expertly balance the demands of a fast-paced curriculum with allowing learners to create meaningful products, make mistakes along the way, and develop the right questions to lead them to success.
Renowned science-fiction writer and biochemist Isaac Asimov once wrote “a subtle thought that is in error may yet give rise to fruitful inquiry that can establish truths of great value.” Simply put, teaching learners it is acceptable to make errors powers their drive to find the right answers. Inquiry-based learning experiences have been proven to increase engagement, boost academic performance, and grow students’ abilities to ask thoughtful questions.
The Engineering Design process promotes student reflection and inquiry through its iterative process. To determine a viable engineering solution, learners begin by asking questions about the problem they are trying to solve. Maker learning experiences that allow for inquiry nurture student innovation. As they build out working prototypes and test functionality, student engineers are constantly asking questions and working towards innovative solutions.
Other maker-centered protocols also lend themselves to student-driven inquiry. In the Parts, Purposes, and Complexities guided-inquiry protocol, learners have the opportunity to analyze an object and ask what parts make up that object, the purpose each part serves, and complexities among the parts and purposes. The benefit of Parts, Purposes, and Complexities is that the protocol is not complete until participants have the opportunity to reflect on the experience, encapsulating both components of this Powerful Learning principle.
Asking questions of oneself is equally important to asking questions of others. In the workforce, research shows that those who spend time reflecting perform better than those who do not. Creating time and space for self-reflection in the classroom better connects students to the learning process, develops their analytical skills, and improves retention. Students at Howard D. McMillan Middle School were challenged to redesign the common spaces in their school to better address students’ needs and improve their learning experiences. Students prototyped different solutions and had the opportunity to present their ideas for feedback. To effectively create their pitches, they had to reflect on what they created and why they believed their solution would be best for the student population. These authentic artifacts served as a catalyst for deep analysis of the learning process and their end products.
Maker learning’s non-traditional approach can make capturing student learning seem difficult. As these learning experiences evolve, educators are turning to a method used in the arts for years: portfolios. Maker Ed’s Open Portfolio Project “combines research and practice in order to develop a common framework for documenting, sharing, and assessing learning through portfolios.” The added benefit of portfolios is that learners must look inwards as they cull and curate their evidence of learning. The Maker Ed “Open Portfolios: Journey Map” highlights the importance of reflection, embedding it in each step of the portfolio creation process. By posing questions both outward and inward, maker learners can create outputs that satiate their innate curiosity while demonstrating newly constructed knowledge.
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 Maker Ed’s “A Practical Guide to Open Portfolios” and “Makerspaces: Highlights of Select Literature.”