Still considered a new trend the Makerspace is the latest buzz word floating around educational circles. Based off of Seymor Papert and Jean Piaget's idea of constructivism. The maker space is essentially a hands on creative learning environment. Allowing children to be given a task and find multiple solutions to complete the task. Think critical thinking with cardboard or lego's. yet the makerspace is more than that watered down example. Makerspaces allow students to explore multiple solutions, apply knowledge learned in other classes and have an engaging STEM learning experience.
Now that the initial boom has taken place we are seeing variations of this creative space forming with new names and ideas behind them. The two most popular are still the makerspace and the FabLab (Fabrication lab). So which is best for your school? Both have roughly the same idea but the level of pre-required knowledge, tools, and tasks make the difference. So in case you are planning here is a breakdown of the two and a flow chart to help you decide which to plan for.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
This fantastic combination of courses is suppose to be the penultimate combination for student knowledge and success. This is supposed to make students ready for future careers and achievement in life. This sounds so promising and I mean who doesn't want all of their students to succeed. Yet STEM in education lacks some critical components.
I was at METC 2016 and listened to a speaker who nailed the problem with STEM right on the head. To paraphrase what he said, Trust me there is no lack of jobs in the STEM field, their is a lack of competency and understanding.
Students exposed to STEM in school, be it elementary or high school, are lacking a serious foundation in this content. They spend all of school doing cool, interesting, and engaging "cookie-cutter" projects and experiments. Then they go to college expecting their field to be the same thing they learned in high school. They inevitably take extra time in college and drop out of their original field to pursue something easier.
This isn't to say we need to abandon STEM in elementary and high school, but to properly teach the reality of being a scientist or engineer. That these fields are not easy, they are not fun al the time. There is work, puzzling, confusing work. Problems that may not have easy or googleable solutions.
So what might this new STEM look like?
Elementary schools should focus on problem finding and solving. Teaching how to look at an issue and find more than 5 solutions to it. STEM should focus at engaging the students using tools that fit their cognitive abilities. High school STEM should focus on the grueling nature of studying. Memorizing computer languages, science vocabulary, reinforcing algebra concepts, and most importantly providing issues that affect the surrounding community. As George Couros says, " Kids don't want to be leaders of tomorrow, they want to be leaders of today!"
STEM allows for authentic learning and creates authentic moments for students to engage with their knowledge. To provide real solutions for today, and to take ownership in what they do. All things missing in current Generation Y and Z college students.
I've seen some recent posts on how coding might be one of the fads in education. Older teachers citing that they saw it with the rise of BASIC or HTML. Looking at how when these languages first started it was the fad to teach children for emerging jobs. Well HTML and BASIC is a backbone. A necessity for basic knowledge to complete our more complicated, but user intelligent interfaces like Python and Java.
My stance on this is I both agree and disagree with my veteran colleague’s observances. Coding, I believe, is one of the most important skills students can learn today. I also agree that our sites like Code.org, code combat, or scratch are good at hooking but it is a representation of what is wrong with STEM education. These interfaces make coding seem fun and easy, just learn some shapes, apply basic algebra, and BAM!!! You have a program or game. Yet that is so far from the truth! Coding requires knowledge. You need to learn a language, and start from nothing. Coding (as a real skill) is a pleasantly frustrating experience. It teaches "grit" (I know we shouldn't use grit but resilience is reserved for things like Scratch). To go from nothing and build full programs is amazing!
This is not to say we should ditch these fantastic intros to programming for children. We should embrace them but also not sugar coat what coding is. Coding is a true science, it is a practical application of knowledge, ingenuity, creativity, and most importantly skill. Ideas learned in coding can apply in other fields. Things like "how can we write a program to make it simple but more powerful" is the same applied concept to engineering, or science, or even how we learn in general.
As educators we must be intentional about teaching this. We must show that coding can look like a puzzle, that the right pieces must go into place to perform tasks, but we should also be teaching the vocabulary of coding, the math of coding, the brilliance of coding!