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Busted: common myths about maker education – Part 4: Is it for STEM teachers only?

Ádám Horváth 2021. 10. 27. 06:59

“The best part was that children learned how to use technology tools without even noticing,” a teacher recently told us when asked about her experience delivering a Maker’s Red Box course. The students in her class had never used a 3D printer or programmed a micro:bit before. Nor had she. In this, the final post in my myth-versus-fact series, I’ll explore what skills it really takes to get started with maker pedagogy – and get it right. Spoiler alert: having a degree in engineering or any other STEM subject is not one of them.

Want to run a maker ed course? You’d better be a computer science teacher then.

Not exactly.

Here are some hard truths: teachers, most of them anyway, aren’t really encouraged to venture outside their field of expertise in school. This is the first barrier we aim to help schools overcome with our course materials. And you’d be surprised how easy it is.

Just last year the Curriculum Development Team of the Reformed Church in Hungary launched a pilot project where six Reformed Church schools set up makerspaces and ran Maker’s Red Box courses. Our joint goal, in the long run, is to encourage the adoption of maker pedagogy and the creation of makerspaces in schools as well as foster innovation in education.

“We’re looking for innovations that have the potential to change education and how students and teachers view the constructed world around us,” said Dr Zoltán Pompor, the head of the Curriculum Development Team. He also added: “We’d like to get students to appreciate the diversity that surrounds them and offer them an integrated way to do so, rather than a siloed, subject-based one.”

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive – from religious studies, literature and STEM teachers alike.

Among the main reasons for the pilot’s success, they cited the ease of use and helpfulness of the teacher’s guides and the supporting digital content included in the course materials.

This is crucial for two reasons. First, it shows that anyone can start and successfully run a maker education course as long as they’re willing to learn how to use new technologies. Even if they’ve never written a single line of code or used a soldering iron before. Since maker tools and technologies like 3D printing have become more mainstream and user-friendly, it’s even easier for teachers to feel comfortable learning to use them and guide students to use them as well.

Second, it underlines the changing role of today’s educators in our brave new digital world. That is, being a guide or mentor, rather than an instructor or even the holder of the ultimate truth. In a maker education classroom, teachers’ primary responsibility is to support the class in completing tasks and finding solutions to whatever problem comes their way. There’s no need for them to know things better.

In other words, the biggest challenge for teachers of any background, when it comes to maker education, is not learning how to solder or code. If anything, it’s embracing the role that this new, technology-powered way of teaching offers.

Once they’ve done that, a whole new world of opportunities will open up for them. One where students see their teachers as partners and are eager to hear what they have to say. This is something educators hardly experience in traditional school settings.

Transforming into the role of a mentor or facilitator does not make educators less-than, but rather, it turns them into adults who are easy to talk to and trust. The result is often an entirely new classroom dynamic, where students focus on their tasks at hand and look to the teacher for guidance, inspiration or feedback.

Creating such a learning environment, by definition, doesn’t require anyone to be a math or music teacher. It just requires them to be good ones.

Someone with a comprehensive knowledge of children’s cognitive and emotional processes as well as of how to keep them engaged and motivated. And engaged and motivated students are what make teaching worthwhile.

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We’d love to share the insight we have gained in the past five years experimenting with it. Read Unleash the power of maker education: a guide for teachers. It contains ten questions about getting started with maker education, all answered.

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