Fostering a Constructionist Learning Environment, the Qualities of a Maker-Educator


by Christa Flores -

“Constructionism is not interested in pitting serious against playful, but instead finds ways to live at the intersection of the two” - Paulo Blikstein (2015)

In previous blogs I have addressed the role of co-teaching in a maker classroom, as well as the intersection of Reggio Emilia practice and working in a makerspace in hopes of redefining the role of teacher in a Constructivist learning environment. Lately, the FabLearn cohort has also been discussing the essay written by Paulo Blikstein and Marcelo Worsley, soon to be published in Project Zero’s Makeology book. In this chapter of the book, the power of the culture of making is said to be highly dependent on the pedagogical style and attitude of the teacher. Fostering a constructionist learning environment is no small charge, as it turns out. Once established, however, this environment offers a world of learning experiences that are pitted to challenge the status quo teaching and learning we see in most schools today.

So what qualities would a teacher possess in a constructionist environment and how would these superheroes behave? Thank you to FabLearn Fellows Mark Schreiber and Erin Riley for their feedback for this post. They are quoted below from our small group meeting on April 7th. Here is a list of top five qualities and behaviors to keep in your tool kit for fostering a constructionist learning environment.

Keep it Brief, Relevant and Open! Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez have a great approach to lesson planning for Makered. Use prompts instead of teacher led and cookie cutter curriculums for best results in constructionism.  Good prompts are simple enough for kids to understand, vague enough to allow a diverse and open array of solutions, and immune to standardized testing. Prompts mirror the effect of using essential questions to deepen engagement, understanding and love of learning. Like essential questions, prompts also allow for the natural integration of math, science, technology, the fine and performing arts, social studies and language arts. In other words, relevant and real problems look like real life.

Model the Maker Mindset! Be willing to co-learn, see the use of technology as an opportunity rather than an insurmountable challenge. Gary Stager is famous for saying, “If you haven’t learned in this century, you should not be teaching in this century.” Erin Riley notes that maker spaces are not your everyday classroom environment. “The Maker Space attracts ‘those kinds of teachers’ willing to take a risk in teaching old content in a new way,” says Erin. Teachers have to be ready to throw out what simply looks like “good teaching” for more effective teaching, which will look different in different settings. It might look like a play, a concert, a cave mapping robot, a scratch video game, or...the list is endless.

Act like a Scientist! You are exploring new territory as a maker educator. Record using images, self-reflections, portfolios and any tool at your disposal to reveal how and what your students are learning. Mark Schreiber reminds us that one of our roles is, “to assess how this work is better or complementary to the current practices of our peers in their classrooms.” Do not get intimidated by testing something that has never been done. A scientist will revel in the unknown. Constructionism and making may offer a better vision of school and learning, lets prove it together by showing and sharing work. 

Reward Curiosity and Passion with Rigor! Fredrick Douglas is famed for stating “Without struggle there is no Progress.” Take out progress and insert learning, and you have a recipe for what constructionism feels like. Never tell a student their ideas are too hard or above grade level. Let them discover their own natural boundaries and when they get stuck, brainstorm possible solutions with them or in a team. This concept of allowing the learner to step beyond themselves is explained in Vygotsky's concept of Zone of Proximal Development as an essential element of learning.

Keep it Safe! Social emotional learning is a large part of what we do as educators. Fostering a safe space that values; new ideas, nontraditional uses for tools and materials, as well as taking risks to solve hard problems, is working against the ineviatalb consequences of more traditional systems of teaching and learning. What does keeping it safe look like in real terms? According to Constructivism: Tools to build (and think) with, “Creating a safe space for students to learn includes a welcoming, friendly, space that is as free as possible from the pressures of time.” Time to be creative is what kids need; show your value for this skill by devoting time to foster it. Lastly, a safe environment is one in which students participate in their own assessment, allowing them to see its value and to gain literacy and autonomy through it. Judgement slips away in the face of critical feedback allowing the sharing  of ideas to be a rewarding part of their learning journey.

Have fun practicing the above and share your thoughts on what you would add to the list!


Resources to Learn More:

Situating Constructionism by Seymour Papert and Idit Harel.

The Nature of Constructionist Learning, a special topics course outline with various reading resources.

Invent to Learn Chapter Two: Learning by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez, and its Resources.

Falbel, A. (1993). Constructionism: Tools to build (and think) with. Toronto: LEGO DACTA.

Learning by Making: An Introduction to Constructionism




Juliet Wanyiri's picture

Well articulated! Christa, thanks for the insights on creating a wholistic maker environment that leaves room for exploration and in depth, open learning.