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Busted: common myths about maker education – Part 2

Are maker classes only for teaching maths or programming?

 

 

 

Ádám Horváth 2021. 08. 05. 09:31

Maker education isn’t teaching maths in a school lab instead of a classroom. In essence, it’s teaching pretty much anything, anywhere in a way that helps children build knowledge through discovery. In part two of my series on separating maker education facts from fiction, I’ll uncover where discipline-based learning falls short, why textbooks fail to equip students with today’s single most important skill and how to get children interested in Harari.

Again, let me start from a bit further back for the sake of greater clarity.

Discipline-based teaching has been around for some 150 years, so it’s a relatively new invention. Prior to that, curriculums were only divided into different subjects in secondary and university-level education. In elementary schools, competencies were developed on an ongoing basis in mixed-age groups, not in rigidly scheduled, siloed classes. One minute students were practising on the abacus, the next they were learning to write in cursive.

In other words, subject-based teaching is far from being the default, the only, or even the oldest way to go about education – let alone the most effective one.

Learning: from burden to benefit

 

Granted, subject-based curriculums break down information into blocks that can be built into a body of knowledge in a systematic way. But if that system essentially entails teaching a timeline of scientific discoveries that are otherwise taken out of context, it’s just not effective enough. Not to mention that it completely neglects problem awareness and problem-based learning. Learning is a complex and intensive process, so children must be given a clear and immediate goal that keeps them going.

For example, in most schools, chemistry education starts with learning about compounds, organic and inorganic, then molecules, atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons and so on. This is a great way to study chemistry but not to understand it. It doesn’t explain why butter melts in the frying pan, or how salt prevents ice formation on the road. Even though these are the exact real-life examples which could engage primary school students in learning about chemical reactions.

That’s bad news, because the moment children lose focus of the whys of learning, it becomes a chore they just want to get over with. In higher education, a deeper understanding of specific subjects is crucial. But at elementary level, it’s unnecessary at best and counterproductive at worst.

Maker pedagogy not only provides context for scientific concepts, but also gives children the information they need to solve real-life problems.

The other problem with discipline-based education is that textbooks fail to equip students with the skill they’ll need the most in the real world: how to find the right information instead of being handed it on a plate. In the digital age, answers are everywhere. But which ones are reliable? Or valid? Or the latest? The critical and analytical skills required for validating information are near-impossible to acquire through textbook learning. Mostly because it goes against everything these skills stand for, putting pre-packaged truths above discovery. One of the reasons why fake news is spreading like wildfire today is that entire generations have grown up wired to learn this way.

 

How to get kids into Harari and the Thales theorem

 

Not only is maker pedagogy suitable for teaching a variety of concepts, interdisciplinarity is at the very core of its philosophy.

It challenges students to come up with solutions using their maths, physics or chemistry skills all at once without ever drawing a line between them. Bringing real-life experiences into the classroom both helps children develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and improve their memory. This is especially true for hard-to-grasp theories like Thales theorem or Gay-Lussac’s law. Plus, why would we even want to teach kids formulas that took scientists years to uncover without telling them what problems they can solve with it, in and outside of school?

The same goes for topics like history, literature or social studies. For example, in the very first session of our City of the Future course, students learn how communities are formed and structured, roughly based on Harari’s interpretation of history. They study the new roles and responsibilities brought about by the shift towards settled communities, and how these settlements grew into complex societies. The frame story also abounds in literary, historical and mythological references, so instruction is only limited by the teacher’s imagination and the students’ skill levels.

In a Finnish school, for example, Maker’s Red Box was used to teach English as a foreign language, among other things. Our Superheroes – Digital storytelling course focuses on digital storytelling, helping kids explore their own strengths, relationships and how they shape their lives. Which, if you think about it, is what teaching literature should come down to: understanding what drives us and our peers and building empathy for each other.

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