Photo Post – Maker Faire NoVA

Last Sunday was the 5th annual Maker Faire here in Northern Virginia and I was fortunate to be one of the official photographers for the event. The Faire has grown tremendously in a short time and this year moved to it’s new home at George Mason University. Below are a few images of people and exhibits spread among three buildings and two outdoor areas. More are in this gallery.

Robots

A line up of robots waiting to come to life.

Robot Kids

There was lots to attract makers of all ages.

Dismantle Space

One of the most popular areas of the Faire allows visitors to take apart electronic devices like printers and DVD players. Because everyone is curious about what’s inside.

Maker Faire Johnson Center

I also took some 360° images at the Faire and this one of the exhibitors in the Johnson Center at GMU. Click your mouse or tap your finger in the image and drag around to see more. More 360° photos are in this Flickr album.

Making Is More Than Robots and 3D

Punkin Chunkin' in Washington State

When you hear the word “maker”, many people think of 3D printing, robots, coding, and makeshift devices like that pumpkin’ chunker in the picture. But, as Josh mentioned in a webinar last week, we should also be including some more traditional creative activities in our thinking, like blogging.

I would also add photography.

When professional photographers talk about their work, they will often not use the phrase “take a picture”. Instead they are “making an image”. It may be a subtle difference, but more than a few pros I’ve read and heard insist that making better defines their process than taking.

Because great photos, ones that inspire and move people, don’t happen by just pointing a camera at the subject and pressing a button. They are made through artful composition, a skillful use of light, and making the best use of the available equipment.

I won’t claim that any of the images I’ve posted here, on my photo site, or on Flickr qualify as “great”. However, I’m working in that direction, through experimentation, learning from others, and lots of practice.

Just like any good maker.


The picture, from Photos By Clark on Flickr, is used under a Creative Commons license.

Spotlight Mismatch

Description of a Spotlight report on Personalized Learning from an EdWeek newsletter:

See how schools are using algorithm-driven playlists to customize lessons for students, consider red flags to look for when purchasing products, and learn how personalization can make learning more social.

I’m almost curious enough to give them my personal information, just so I can understand how “algorithm-driven playlists” and customized lessons can make learning “more social”. Seems like a big mismatch to me.

The next item in the newsletter describes their Spotlight report on Maker Education:

Learn how schools are embracing student-driven learning, ensuring equity in maker education, and providing students with opportunities to develop real-world skills.

Is it possible to have “algorithm-driven playlists” and “student-driven learning” in the same classroom? Or do these reports describe two completely different groups of students? And if that’s the case, how do we decide which students get “personalized” and who gets the “opportunities to develop real-world skills”?

Lots of questions. Not many good answers.

Designing a Change

Serpentine Gallery Pavillion1

Although not as much of a rockstar in the ed reform headlines as STEM or maker, the concept of “design thinking” is beginning to seep into the top ten. Like STEM, maker, and PBL, it’s touted by advocates as a new idea that could revolutionize learning. Also like those other terms, few people can agree on what it is and how it might fit into the classroom.

But don’t worry, even the experts are not sure how to concisely explain design thinking.

Confusion around the precise definition of design thinking is understandable, said Neil Stevenson, the executive portfolio director at IDEO Chicago, one of the best-known purveyors of design thinking. “Design thinking isn’t one thing,” he told me in a phone interview, “but a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term, which obviously has the potential to lead to ambiguity and misunderstanding.”

Which means it fits right in with STEM and those other vague educational concepts: “a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term”. Ambiguity and misunderstanding probably describes all of them and more.

I like the idea of design thinking being applied in the classroom since the concept of design incorporates many of the skills we say we want students to learn during their time in K12 (creativity, collaborative, critical thinking, etc.). From my experience, it offers students and teachers an organized process for creating solutions to problems in just about any subject area.

At its best, design thinking incorporates proven-effective teaching techniques such as self-directed inquiry and collaborative problem-solving, and dovetails nicely with social-emotional learning curricula that emphasize interpersonal skills such as collaboration and empathy.

Ultimately, design thinking is not a curriculum, advocates like Stevenson say, but a process for problem-solving, a strategy to elicit creativity rooted in empathy and comfort with failure.

However, there’s just one big problem with trying to incorporate design thinking into our current learning model: the concept does not fit with the curriculum, pedagogy, and objectives used in most American schools.

Simply inserting a few “design” activities into the school year when time allows (aka after the spring tests) does not help students become creative, to learn to think in new ways. The same is true when we try to graft STEM, or maker, or PBL, or any of the many other buzz concepts onto what is already being done in the classroom.

If design thinking is really important (or STEM, or maker, or <insert your favorite curriculum idea>) – if it is really a process students should learn and use – then make it part of everyday school instead of a special activity. Rewrite the curriculum around design principles, help teachers revise their pedagogy to make it work, and completely reimagine how to assess student progress.

Without a complete redesign of what school is, we simply have our 1950’s expectations with a few modern talking points.

Discovery Learning

The title of a recent essay in Wired certainly caught my eye: American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist.

I think anyone who does a realistic evaluation of our educational system in the context of the rapidly changing American society, and especially the world of business, would regard that statement as obvious. But that’s not how school works.

We “learn,” and after this we “do.” We go to school and then we go to work.

This approach does not map very well to personal and professional success in America today. Learning and doing have become inseparable in the face of conditions that invite us to discover.

A large part of our approach to the learning process assumes that students must accumulate facts to some basic level before they can ever consider applying those facts.

Here in the real world, most people begin with a problem to solve, a question we need answered, or a skill we want to acquire. Then we do the necessary research as we work towards the goal. The two parts are so intertwined, I doubt most people notice when they switch between accumulating information and applying it.

The writer, a professor at Harvard, goes on to say “Americans need to learn how to discover”. But he does see something changing in the right direction.

Against this arresting background, an exciting new kind of learning is taking place in America. Alternatively framed as maker classes, after-school innovation programs, and innovation prizes, these programs are frequently not framed as learning at all. Discovery environments are showing up as culture and entertainment, from online experiences to contemporary art installations and new kinds of culture labs. Perhaps inevitably, the process of discovery — from our confrontation with challenging ambiguous data, through our imaginative responses, to our iterative and error-prone paths of data synthesis and resolution — has turned into a focus of public fascination.

Certainly these “discovery” programs are showing up in many schools. But they are not part of “regular” school. They are classes for a special group of kids (generally those who we know will already pass the tests), after-school programs, or occasional reward activities.

The last part of the article focuses on changes at the college level but he discusses one very interesting idea that should be brought into K12.

All this has led to the rise of the culture lab.

Culture labs conduct or invite experiments in art and design to explore contemporary questions that seem hard or even impossible to address in more conventional science and engineering labs.

Instead of starting with memorizing facts and processes, then using them on totally artificial applications, why not ask students below the college level to address those contemporary questions? Why not ask them to investigate the parts of the world about which they are curious as part of “regular” school?

Instead of making discovery learning a supplement for only select kids.