Standards: 1.1; 1.5; 4.1
The humble beginnings of our makerspace in the library – a collaborative effort between Steve Draper, Evan Watkins, Pam Saunders and me – have got me thinking about alternative learning spaces other than the traditional classroom, eg student-driven learning, passion-driven learning and hands-on, collaborative learning.
Much has been written about the importance of tinkering (eg here and here), play and unstructured learning which takes problem-solving, collaborative learning and risk-taking into an unthreatening space. Although we obviously can’t throw out what we do in the classroom in favour of hands-on, unstructured activity, I’m still convinced that a conversation about this kind of learning will be valuable. Of course, students in the visual and performing arts do it all the time. And don’t get me started on that; we should try to understand the value of the Arts for the playing out of the learning process, and not just look at it with the career as end point.
In terms of differentiation a hands-on activity allows for thinking and problem-solving which is missing from abstract and textual learning. Here we have self-paced, individual or collaborative learning based on trial and error, intrinsically driven and self-correcting. All of these things, including peer learning, take place without the guidance of an instructor (apart from the manual which is optional) and without the limitations of prescribed outcomes.
Updating the makerspace activity. LittleBits have brought different groups of students throughout the day. We could do without the little horn but never mind.
The conversation coming from a group of students tinkering away is an interesting one. I’ve been thinking about the difference between this space and its offered activities and the traditional classroom. The boxes of bits and pieces catches the attention of passing students who might come and see what it’s about. You can almost hear the cogs whirring in the brain as fingers turn bits around to make sense of how each bit works. A relaxed conversation follows, with questioning and ‘what ifs’ going in any direction, free from the confines of predetermined outcomes. The students own the activity. They choose how they stay, whether or not they read the manual.
Experimentation does not involve high-stakes risks. Right and wrong hold no judgement; it’s just a matter of trying a different way if it doesn’t work the first time. And there’s always someone to ask if you’re stuck.
There’s an element of mindfulness here; the activity relaxes as it engages. I observe a a quiet focus on the task and a sense of wellbeing/happiness being in the moment. There is also potential to bring together students who have not come together before. And most of all it’s a happy space.
Can we envision this kind of space for a classroom?