Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hosting a #digitaledchat for #MakerEdNZ

Recently, I was give the opportunity from Stuart Kelly to host a #digitaledchat on #MakerEdNZ. I was very nervous about this proposition, but was also excited about the chance to not only run a major, international chat, but also to learn from others and start the conversation.

It was very difficult to set the questions as I wanted to encourage lots of rich discussion, but I also wanted to make sure that the talk was accessible. I initially made a few too many questions, so that I could whittle them down to the best ones.

In the end, I settled with the following 6 questions. None were earth shattering, but I felt that they would direct the discussion and help bridge the gap between the early adopters and those who were just learning about maker spaces for the first time.

  1. What is your experience with makerspaces?
  2. How would you define a makerspace?
  3. What barriers have you had or do you have in getting a makerspace in your school?
  4. What are the benefits or disadvantages to letting learners make or create whatever they want?
  5. How much direction do you think should be given in a makerspace?
  6. What are you going to do to either add to your makerspace or start one?

I wanted to focus on building the base and getting people motivated to start trying these things, which is one of the main reasons I started #MakerEdNZ

The chat went fairly well, and we had some good discussion. A transcript of the whole thing can be found here.

One of the first things that came out of the discussion was actually what a maker space is. Many schools probably have such a space and do maker activities, but they wouldn't necessarily call it that. Perhaps this is one of the realizations that we need to encourage in NZ schools so that educators can start thinking in terms of building on what they already have, rather than having to start a new thing that they've not heard of before.

We even came up with a new word: Thinkering, which given the mix of thinking and tinkering gives a great description of what learners would do in a makerspace - both expanding their mind and using the materials they have to create something.

Many of the barriers to makerspaces starting up were ones that we have heard before: time, money, space, a dedicated staff member, leadership buy-in. These are all things that need to be addressed, though one of them was seemingly discussed as an easily solvable problem. Maker spaces do not need to be full of expensive equipment. Many schools get by with using completely recyclable things, which are very easy to get within the community. Other barriers will need to be given a bit more time, but another purpose of MakerEdNZ is to help get through these.

Many teachers saw providing maker spaces as a positive way to encourage creativity, problem solving and to provide open ended problems. Some worried about wasted time and wasted resources. I've certainly cringed when I've seen my students spending hours on something, using a whole roll of tape in something that won't likely turn out to be useful, but the process of this does hold some value in my opinion. Thought it is tough to see all that wasted tape. Some other teachers echoed this sentiment during the chat as well.

Most teachers agreed that as little direction as possible would be best, though there is a need for some up front direction so as to keep children safe and to provide them with a starting off point. This has shown to be key for me and my learners and after some initial difficulty with the freedom of choice, they were able to become independent and self-directed quite quickly and easily. It's that getting lost or stuck that promotes real, authentic learning.

The actions that teachers are going to take are varied. Some were going to start using the term maker space, while others were very specific in their ideas going forward. Several wanted to get donations of materials for their spaces and find ways for learners to start making.

All in all it was a great conversation, and one that I hope to help continue. It definitely clarified what a maker space is for some and it got others starting to share with each other - an activity that will be key to growing the movement here in NZ.

I look forward to the next chat that I'll be able to host, whether it takes the same format or it pushes a bit beyond. Either way, this was a valuable experience and an important step forward in the #MakerEdNZ journey.

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