Tag Archives: Invent to Learn

Invent to Learn: A Book Review of Sorts

Airplanes are great places to get some serious reading done.  The forced sitting, no access to the internet, no television…make perfect conditions for finishing that book I’ve been wanting to get back to!

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager is a book I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard about it last summer.  I started it a while back and got about half way through it before my overflowing to-do list pushed it back behind a pile too high to see over.  And okay, I admit, I did sneak a bit of “junk food” novel reading in there too!

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Anyway, I got back to Invent to Learn last week and remembered all the reasons I wanted to read this book.  One of the things I appreciate most about this book is the  theoretical foundation it lays down at the beginning.  I like the historical context of the Maker Movement and seeing where my own beliefs and learning experiences fit into it.  I also like the way that it extends making to include building with cardboard and other “old school” examples but also makes a case for including computers and digital technologies as well as electronics, circuitry, movie making and more.

In lots of ways this book confirms practices I already value and reminds me that messiness and time are essential elements of the learning process–not indicators of failure.

But, in spite of all my interest and good intentions to include a makerspace in my classroom, I haven’t gotten there yet.  We have done making and worked to help our students experience and understand iterative processes.  They have “made” with paper, with fabric and thread, and with digital programming.

So what are my obstacles?  Time is the big one.  I’m still figuring out how to balance the demands of curriculum, traditional learning expectations, and the value of making within the school day.

So I’m trying to be patient with baby steps, carving out small but consistent opportunities for making (of all types).

I encourage you to read Invent to Learn–definitely the first half–to think about why making and tinkering and engineering are such valuable practices for the classroom.  And then I would love to know more about how you will implement some version of making in your classroom. What works for you?

Making and Learning

Instead of thinking about teaching on Tuesday, I spent my day thinking about learning.  On the plane Tuesday morning I sat next to a young family who had vacationed in San Diego to go to Legoland with their two young boys…and got stuck Monday night because of the domino effect of the weather in the midwest and east coast.  For being pretty tired, the boys were great.  The littlest guy (maybe 3 or 4) was playing a game on his DS system.  Whenever he got “stuck,” he would hand the game system up to his older brother (who was maybe 5) in the seat in front of him and ask for help.  Brother would play the troublesome spot and then hand the game back and little guy would go on with his play.  After his brother tired of helping, mom would help…and coach as she did so.

At the same time I was reading Invent to Learn, a book about the maker movement and the value of engaging learners in meaningful activity to maximize learning.  It begins with the theory behind making as learning…including information about Piaget, Montessori, Dewey, Vygotsky, the Reggio Emilia system, and folks at MIT, including Seymore Papert.  The book emphasizes what they call the constructionist (rather than the constructivist) theory of learning.  Their argument is that through the concrete construction of meaningful projects, learners gain rich, layered skills that serve them in school and beyond.  They also emphasize the value of play.

I landed in Oakland and made it on time for my 9:00 meeting at the National Writing Project offices in Berkeley with a small group of like-minded educators interested in the maker movement, interested in the intersections of literacy and science and STEM-related learning, interested in meaningful learning, both in and out of schools, for young people in their community. We gathered to consider ways schools and writing projects might collaborate with other organizations to further these goals.

I wrote about my experience in Boston with paper circuitry here, and today we met with Jen Dick and David Cook to continue to build our relationship and thinking about the ways writing and circuitry enhance each other and might support student learning in and out of schools.  We began by talking about our own experiences with paper circuitry and the benefits and barriers to bringing it to our own contexts.  Lou had managed to secure some LED stickers from Jie in Boston and returned to his high school class in Northern California where he introduced his students to the paper circuitry project.  He described the success and excitement his students experienced and what he learned from both his students and his own children who also tried out the process.

We took our circuitry learning a step further and programmed mini controllers to make our LED lights blink on and off at intervals we selected.

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We also learned about some other exciting new developments on the horizon for merging the science of circuits, technology with programming, and writing.  I still find myself thinking mostly about what students learn when they make a plan and then need to troubleshoot and iterate to get it to work the way they intend.  Systems thinking is a powerful tool that we employ throughout our lives across subject matter and circumstances.

Jie, the designer of the LED stickers, also Skyped with us after we worked with the circuits and we all thought together about how these stickers impact the experience of working with the circuits..and with the the experience of the creating of writing and imagery with the lights.  I appreciate Jie’s attention to the aesthetic experience of composing writing and art and how it is enhanced or impeded by the circuits rather than putting the circuits themselves at the front of the project.  By considering the work as a whole…light and drawing and writing…she reminds us that it is the integration of these elements that create the meaningful result.

The morning ended with the group thinking about how we might put these LED stickers to use back in our classrooms and at our writing project sites.  There was much more to the day…but that will have to be another post.

And I am left thinking about learning.  Those little boys on the plane, the book I was reading, my experience programming to create a blinking light all remind me that the best of learning is meaningful, active and interactive, and collaborative.  Even though I understand the basics of circuitry, sitting next to Peter and examining his working circuit informed my thinking…and since I ran out of time before completing my mini project, I will finish it on my own, at home. I’m confident that I know how to make it work and if I do run into a problem, Peter and my others colleagues are just a tweet or email away.  If you want to see Peter’s finished mini project, see his Vine here.

I can’t wait to share my experiences with my students and with my colleagues.  I look forward to exploring all the ways that writing can enhance and expand this circuitry work along with how the circuitry and lights can add another dimension to the writing.