In previous blogs I have written about my students engaging in a spring hard problem each year. After learning new tools, material science and the basics of patterns and structures, these projects are a deep design challenge that students engage in for an entire semester in teams of four to five. The level of cooperation that this work involves is intense and can result in a team breaking up and reforming, though this is infrequent. The value of this work is that students are able to tackle problems and design challenges that they would not be able to complete if working alone. This summer, I have had the fortune of spending a week at Beam Camp, a three week session of summer camp in the woods of New Hampshire where ten to seventeen year olds work with graduate level architects and designers to construct massive installations on their one hundred acre campus with two lakes. This blog is a reflection on my time at Beam Camp and the overall value of allowing young learners to work together to build projects that would be impossible for any single person to accomplish alone in only a few weeks.
Every learner deserves a space to go to every day that will expose them to the beauty of the world and the intrepid explorer that they truly are. How can learning spaces cultivate this goal while encouraging constructive autonomy in the youngest of learners? Two spaces that I have had the pleasure of visiting have shed some light on that question. The first stop was San Francisco Brightworks and the second the Beam Center in Brooklyn, NY.
My kids make stuff. They’re not geeks, they’re girls. Sure they know how to make an LED light up, run a laser cutter job, yep. Yet, even with all of this, their go-to material is still paper, and tape –lots of tape.
I think we may be making making too complex.
Standing on a foundation of Pestalozzi, Montessori, Dewey and now Piaget, we begin again in the 1960’s in Brazil, where another revolutionary thinker named Paulo Freire was inventing his own theories about education. Frustrated by the poverty he was seeing throughout the depression, Freire showed through experimentation that literacy was the key to achieving true democracy, freedom and self-actualization. He coined a new learning model called critical pedagogy, where education was a tool to question any system of oppression, namely that of our current economic and educational systems. Friere was laying the groundwork for what we now call the “maker mindset” before the term existed, a sentiment that would resonate in Piaget’s work as well.
The idea that each individual should learn through direct experience rather than direct instruction is one so obvious to real scientists that the Latin phrase Nullius in Verba, which translates to 'take nobody's word for it' was adopted in 1660 as the official motto of The Royal Society of London. According to The Royal Society's website, the motto was adopted as “an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.” A scientist is a constructivist by nature and profession, but when would constructionism take root in schools?
In response to a literal call for #HELP on Twitter, I pulled together the following three blogs from various resources. This was not as easy of a task as I was hoping, but I continue to model the use of constructionism with materials like words to force me to better understand, aka construct my own knowledge on the topics of making in schools and the two learning theories constructivism and constructionism. I hope that the intended audience finds these blogs useful. If not, references are at the bottom of each blog so the reader can construct her own interpretation of constructivism and constructionism using the historical evidence.
When we remove the white coat of inquiry we are introduced to a world of stories of practicing artists and scientists that have blurred the lines of these seemingly disparate disciplines. These stories inspire us by revealing the long standing history of how science has influenced art movements and individual artists. In this section we will look at the role of materials as a rich and natural intersection for the practice of art and science in harmony. We will hear a story of a how the science of the mind influenced a modern art movement and we will also examine the value of art as a powerful catalyst for inquiry for scientists of all ages. Thanks to the maker movement and the merger of art with STEM, we are seeing a witnessing a new horizon of Material Science and Making.
Hillbrook’s 5th grade, the class of 2019, has embarked on this year’s spring hard problem, a semester long deep project in science that addresses rigorous research practices, as well as a challenging engineering and design prompt.