Friday, July 31, 2015

Let there be making

Making. Makerspace. Odd phrases for what is essentially hands-on learning.

In EdSurge's "How to Lead Professional Development for Makerspace and STEM Educators," Dr. Todd Keruskin (@drtoddkeruskin) described the different stations through which educators rotated as they participated in the Pittsburgh FAB Institute. In reading this article, you are discovering how a school district opted to immerse its educators in what we're calling makerspace professional development. Or, hands-on learning.

Oh, I don't mean to diminish "makerspace" because I'm a fan. I love the described stations and the work educators got to do as they rotated through each station. I love that the kind of learning students could experience was a participatory and modeled event for them. What I didn't love is that this making experience seemed to be only about cool gadgets and software when makerspace learning shouldn't, in my opinion, be limited to gadgets and software (although I'll gladly use that as a convenient excuse, I mean, reason to get a 3D printer).

What I particularly loved is the emphasis Dr. Keruskin placed on the importance of cross-curricular collaboration and bringing down those blasted silos. Let's face it, though, that's going to be hard work in some places and with some teachers.

The collective "we" in education likes to say that high school teachers can be the most difficult because they are so wedded to and protective of their content areas. And yet, like any other generalization, "we" also know that one is fraught with disingenuity because there are plenty of high school teachers who get, embrace, and value cross-curricular learning. All teachers, at all grade levels and in all content areas, need to know that when they step out to try something new and uncertain, they will have the support of their administration as well as those who can help make the new and uncertain less uncertain.

What so often gets in the way is what Dr. Keruskin has tried to eliminate: the barriers that enable teachers to work together. But making PD time that invites technology teachers to work with art teachers is one thing.

It's yet another to make common planning time and to make it possible for teachers to stretch, enhance, refine, or flat out redesign their curricula to incorporate hands-on, silo-free learning for students.

It's yet another to make time and opportunities for teachers to collaborate for students' blended and personalized learning experiences.

It's yet another to make time and opportunities for teachers and students to work collaboratively to develop blended and personalized learning experiences.

It's yet another to make it a priority to have the best possible support in personnel and technology as well as on-going and embedded training and professional development so educators have the best possible resources or a reasonable choice of resources to support these great hands-on, silo-free learning experiences for students.

All aligned with whatever standards are necessary and appropriate. . .and across content areas. All of which is possible. All of which could be wildly successful. Provided teachers and students have time and resources.

So by all means, let there be making. In fact, I hereby declare by the power and authority vested in me by absolutely no one that every school day should be a day of making of learning. But let there also be an acknowledgement that such making of learning requires a vision for what could be as well as planning (which includes teachers and students), funding, resources, and the right skills or learning opportunities to develop those skills so that such making of learning can occur. For the teachers, and for the students.

Don't let the barriers and challenges stop you for moving ahead on this important endeavor. Let the barriers and challenges be part of the process because, after all, cross-curricular hands-on learning is what we do every day as we work through the barriers and challenges of what we call "real life."

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