As I wrote in my previous blog post, Design for Life (see below) this desire to ensure that students have ample opportunities to learn with their hands was one of the moving principles behind implementing a Kindergarten to Grade 5 Design course here at Nanjing International School.
As the Design element of the curriculum has developed I've been inquiring more into the Maker Movement and Design Thinking and recently came across an amazing book Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager, Ph.D. in addition to a great deal of practical advice, this book clearly outlines the potential of Making as a central aspect of the learning process but is also clear about some of the potential pitfalls. I would highly recommend that people get hold of a copy as it makes a very clear case for the importance of designing and making things both physically and on computers whilst addressing some of the concerns.
As I tinker with my own understanding of the potential of design thinking and making in the classroom number of potential pitfalls seem to need to be addressed:
1) Empty Creativity: Matthew Crawford in The Case for Working with your Hands (published in the US as Shop Class as Soulcraft) makes the point that Einstein was not a creative physicist in isolation from being a highly knowledgeable one. "Creativity" Crawford argues "is the by product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice." (p51). As we empower students to to come up with creative solutions and creative problems how do we also ensure that they are becoming skilled at using the tools, both physical and mental, they need to solve that problems. Unless carefully structured we run the dangour of creating a group of frustrated students who know that if they'd ever learnt to programme or to solder or to saw they would be able to solve something. Even more worryingly creating students who are not frustrated by this and feel the goal is to talk about what you would do if you ever learnt any skills. How do we ensure that there is the necessary rigour so that creating something is not the end. Creating and building something that genuinely works should be the goal.
2) Abdication of responsibility by teachers: One common pitfall of inquiry based teaching is hearing teachers say "I don't need to know it the children can find it out." Whilst for certain specific knowledge this is true, Martinez and Stager are very clear on this point; "In case we have been to subtle, you should learn to program,solder,build a robot or design a 3D object,especially if you expect children to." Teachers do not need to become expert in all fields of making but they need to have the curiosity to learn slightly ahead of their students.
3) Learning the Design Cycle becoming more important than Designing: How do we avoid the importance becoming knowing the phases of the design cycle over and above being able to design.This is the flip side to point 2 how do we ensure that teachers don't become overly prescriptive and make design thinking about an abstract thinking process rather than physical designing and building.
4) Students not thinking deeply about making: The Agency by Design project
is trying to link the Project Zero Work on thinking with the Maker movement and talk about giving students agency to have the knowledge skills and understandings to design effectively. Martinez and Stager argue that "Making is a way of documenting the thinking of a learner in a shareable artefact." How will teachers become skilled at understanding and enabling the thinking process of a student engaged in making and tinkering?
I am excited by the potential for a truly rounded learning experience that Design Thinking and the Maker Movement offers but wary that without great teachers and great teacher training it may well not live up to that potential.