Things we have learned -Part 1

home spy tank selfie

@ka81 and @markfeltham666 – All views are our own

MakerEd: towards an alternative teaching and learning universe

My other half @ka81 and I are both educators and avid makers. Caroline teaches physics and I teach the biosciences (often with an Animal Behaviour slant) and whilst I’m quite happy to lecture to 250 students on the weird and wonderful sexual shenanigans of everything from weevils to whales, our joint passion is for ‘the doing of science’.

A few years ago we had a crazy idea to start a collaborative project on maker education and makerspaces for teaching and learning.  We wanted to embed flexible, smart learning into our teaching through the use of social media, mobile technologies and especially making in order to provide students with the opportunity to develop a unique portfolio of skills and have fun! We wanted to design something that would stimulate students’ curiosity, develop their creativity, encourage their engagement, enhance retention, and promote autonomy, initiative and innovation. Put simply we wanted to take our students with us on a journey to a very different teaching and learning universe. Three years later, we have a makerspace (albeit a temporary one) and students who are; starting to build their own data-loggers, camera traps and sensor packs using @arduino @Raspberry_Pi and @adafruit; deploy sensors with UAVs, app controlled Spy Tanks and PowerUp 3.0 driven helium blimps; and 3D scan, print and laser cut a variety of things as part of their bioscience degrees and secondary education. You may have guessed that we are somewhat committed to joining the dots across the educational landscape.


Think. Make. Learn. Share

Trying to embed #makered into your teaching across all subjects (not just computing/engineering) can be an exhausting task, but we were lucky. We met so many wonderful, energetic, inspiring people on our #makered journey who’s passion for learning and dogged determination to succeed kept us going when we felt like giving up. So, in the true maker spirit we wanted to share our own experiences with other makers in education in the hope that we might do the same as the friends we’ve made along the way – keep some of you going, when you feel like giving up! To whit, if you’re trying to bring Maker Education into your own school, college or University and feel like you’re facing an uphill struggle, here’s a few things we discovered that might give you some perspective in those moments of doubt.

  1. You may often feel isolated – you’re not, it just feels that way.


One of the first things I think we noticed when we started all this was that in educational circles it felt like we were the only people on the same page as ourselves. Nobody really seemed to know anything about Maker Education at all. Even the ‘great and the good’ at the various annual Teaching & Learning Conferences seemed, with one or two exceptions to be oblivious. So we’d sit there and listen to presentations about 21st century teaching, flexible pedagogies, innovation in teaching and learning, student engagement etc. and wonder where the Maker Education stuff was. I think maybe it’s different in the US, where there’s much more of a maker culture, so perhaps it was just because MakerEd is a relatively new thing in the UK, but it was weird. When we visited Makerspaces and Makerfaires people ‘got’ what we were trying to do… in academic circles though… blank faces. It took us a while to realise that actually, there WERE educators out there who had similar ideas, but as with all things new, they were in tiny pockets scattered to the winds – the trick was finding them. Twitter worked for us #makered #edtechchat #makerfaire #makerspace #stem etc

  1. That feeling of frustration at having to explain what a Makerspace is…yet again, will pass.


You know that feeling you get when you think you have a great idea and you want to share it with anybody who will listen? That was us back then…passion bordering on evangelism. We would thump our tub whenever and wherever we could, but time after time no sooner had we taken that initial deep breath in order to excitedly blurt everything out, than we’d be cut short before we’d even gotten going. ‘Makerspace?’, blank face, ‘What’s a Makerspace??’. Now this is fascinating stuff… at least to me. You’d start off by retracing your steps and happily filling in the blanks with a brief history of makers /the maker community / makerspaces and eventually get to MakerEd, at which point you’d either get a nod and a smile (code for… well I don’t teach computer science so…), or you’d get a slightly different nod and a smile (code for… ah right, you mean PBL / enquiry-based learning, we already do that). Either way I found myself evolving my conversations so that what began as patient and reactive, became slightly agitated and pre-emptive, before hitting the full blown ‘Why am I even bothering to have these conversations?’, withdrawing into hermitude for a while to reflect on my grumpiness and then finally emerging with my perspective and expectations adjusted only to see the latter exceeded almost immediately. Time had moved on and people were actually talking about makers and making in an educational context. People knew what an Arduino and Raspberry Pi were – it was great! OK I exaggerate, we still regularly have to have the ‘What’s a makerspace?’ conversation, BUT, it’s not met with those same coded nods and smiles anymore. It’s met with interest and questions. A step in the right direction!

  1. You will have to do battle with CAVEs – suit up, it’s actually quite fun.


So things began to change for the better. We felt less isolated and found other people who spoke ‘MakerEd’ or who were interested in learning it. But this did not (and still doesn’t) apply to everyone. We had to accept that no matter what we did, we were never going to get all of our colleagues on board, in particular, the CAVEs. We all know and work with CAVEs. It stands for Colleagues Against Virtually Everything. We’d like to be able to take credit for this cracking acronym, but alas its originator is somewhere in the ether. So wherever you are, thank you! To us, CAVE is not a derogatory term. It’s not a criticism, it’s just that CAVEs have a different mindset to the makers among us. I kind of think of them as the Koala Bears of education, cuddly enough but ultimately completely content with their diet of educational eucalyptus. Hot ‘n’ spicey is just not for them… and that’s fine… unless, you need a signature from one, or funding! Then you may have a problem. Ever tried to get a 5 year old to try something new to eat? It can be a bit like that… but that’s for another blog.

  1. Get used to taking the lead and find your ‘-EEN’… you may need one or two


If you’re serious about pushing MakerEd in your particular workplace you may need an ‘-een’. Before I explain what an ‘-een’ IS I would just like to make it clear that I’m not advocating the use of any kind of stimulant… what I am saying is that you will probably need to find new levels of energy to deal with 1-3 above, because let’s face it… we also have all our other teaching and learning commitments to fit in as well as MakerEd. @ka81 and my personal vices in this respect were Caf-EEN, Nicot-EEN and Adrenol-EEN. They kept us alert, travelling at 100mph and firing on all four cylinders during those early stages. Thankfully, (we both have heart problems) we have shed the first two and now survive entirely on the third, despite having discovered another three cylinders and so we’re now travelling somewhere in excess of 250mph…metaphorically speaking of course. My point is this. In all likelihood you’re going to have to take the lead with anything MakerEd… it’s just not ‘mainstream’ enough yet and so this will require more time and energy on top of your usual teaching duties.

  1. If you’re uncomfortable not knowing – you’ll need to buy a cushion.


If there’s one big thing we’ve learned along the way it’s that you HAVE to be flexible in how you teach and assess MakerEd. In allowing students opportunities to brainstorm, invent, design, and build…and then time to fix mistakes, improve, test and improve again you will inevitably find that you are taken into uncharted territory, sometimes without the required documents and with only a smattering of the local language. If you’re not comfortable with the big unknown and the phrase ‘Hmmm, I don’t know. Why don’t we find out?’ then buy yourself a nice big soft cushion, plant yourself in front of a mirror and practice saying it twice a day until the phrase rolls off your tongue like a native and the little voice inside your head stops saying ‘But…’.

We’d love t hear about your own MakerEd experiences, so if you’d like to guest blog, please get in touch @ka81 @markfeltham666 or join us on HEdWorks@HEdSpaceUK.


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