Over this last year, I have had the opportunity to understand what Education for All, Learning for All, differentiation and equity on deeper levels due to working in a Makerspace.
Learning is about problem solving, creating positive math mindsets, constructing and building knowledge through hands on activities, and most of all, promoting equity. No where is this more true than in a Makerspace.
However, I think that we have very deep issues pertaining to equity in our schools and classrooms. The ways that things are traditionally done simply do not facilitate success for everyone – but this is what education is all about – doing whatever we can to help students be successful.
Makerspaces (or S.T.E.A.M. Rooms – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), are opportunities for new kinds of teaching and learning that promote equity. Based in Constructionism, Makerspaces are designed to give students the ability to build knowledge themselves with hands on tasks. Our students do not have to learn from the teachers experiences and knowledge, they can actively build it themselves.
Working in a Makerspace means that timelines need to be flexible. This fits in beautifully with Growth Mindsets. Students should not have to feel bad because something wasn’t built by the end of the period – this alone does not prove how much a student learned. What matters is the knowledge built from the experience and the process.
Consider this example for a moment:
A class is given a design challenge that brings in many elements of structures in science and math concepts with geometry and spatial reasoning. There are multiple entry points, where students can build as simple, or as complex as they would like. Next:
Student A builds a structure in 5 minutes, whereas Student B struggles with the process for an entire learning block, and does not come close to finishing.
The most important questions become: What was learned? What value did each student get out of the process?
Student A feels great because they built something on time. It came fast, and easy. However, student A did not learn anything.
By contrast: Student B doesn’t finish, feels terrible about not finishing. Frustration levels go high. Self-esteem drops.
Both develop a fixed mindset about learning.
What a travesty it would be if Student B did not have the opportunity to understand why there was struggle with the process? What if this student struggled because they were figuring out a very complex piece of learning for them? What if they were taking the risk to learn, even though the stakes might be high?
Student B did not take the easy route. Student B made mistakes. Student B is experiencing frustration which is what happens in learning. Student B doesn’t realise that they are reinforcing an image of not finishing in time as being a bad thing.
Student A doesn’t feel the need to learn anything new. Student A believes that finishing quickly is a good thing. Student A doesn’t have a teacher who will continue to provide opportunities to take the learning even deeper. Student A’s learning stalls, yet Student A benefits from an image of being a model student.
Can you imagine if people were not allowed to change their plans, make mistakes and start fresh? Or worse, what if we as educators are the ones sending these messages to our students that they cannot?
I always ask my students, What would happen if an engineer did not ever change plans, make mistakes and even start over?
Now, some students need scaffolding with this – they need to understand what an engineer does, and they need to understand that ‘creating’ and ‘making’ follow a process. They need to understand that we design new ideas and structures to help people.
But when they do understand this, it really seems to click with them. They would WANT an engineer who is designing a bridge, for instance, to stop, revise plans, fix mistakes and start over if necessary. This is far more advantageous than quitting after a mistake, or quitting because work needed to extend past a deadline.
Therefore, working in a Makerspace has to mean becoming flexible with timelines and tasks. It has to be about building knowledge in ways that are very new in our school systems.
My experiences in creating a community atmosphere where students have choice and voice, has taught me a great deal about student learning. It has taught me that I do not have to ‘control’ student learning, yet I can facilitate the learning and help students meet their learning goals in many ways.
This has a huge impact on classroom management as well. In fact, the biggest behaviour issues that surface are the ones directly related to problem solving skills, and from having fixed mindsets. Not from students feeling bored, ‘dumb’, or disconnected from learning.
The fact is, that providing students with different ways of doing things, and providing students with opportunities to learn differently and share their voices in different ways produces greater focus, growth mindsets, and student-centered knowledge building opportunities. In my humble experience, this demonstrates that all students can be successful with opportunities to learn in different ways. It promotes equity.
This takes differentiation and Education for All to a whole new level. We are not differentiating so that students can do what WE want them to do all the time. We are differentiating for them – so that the students can build knowledge in ways that are personally meaningful to them. While still meeting the learning goals. While still learning about the Big Ideas.
What does this look like?
- We are facilitating, asking questions, promoting student inquiry.
- We are starting with the Big Ideas.
- We are setting key learning goals.
- We are clustering the specific expectations around them – from many different subjects.
- We are allowing students to design, plan, construct, and then allowing them to write about it, reflect, problem solve, engage in visual-spatial reasoning. All skills that are proven to increase reading scores and help students to become literate learners.
In addition to problem solving, promoting positive math mindsets, and having the opportunity to build knowledge and understanding in new ways, I believe that Makerspaces have the powerful opportunity to begin to promote equity for students in our school systems.