Sylvia Martinez: Maker Movement in Schools

Pay attention as the Maker Movement brings authentic learning to the classroom.

Here, Sylvia Martinez, co-author of Invent to Learn and long dedicated to student-centered, authentic learning, discusses the Maker Movement and its application in schools.


What are you undertaking in your school with the Maker Movement? How are you rearranging time and space in your school to undertake authentic learning in a Maker Space?

#ISTE2014 Takeaway Two: Use of Time and Space

Energy. Ideas. Flexibility. Openness. Learning. Sharing. These are only a few words to capture the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference experience. It is important to note that the focus of #ISTE2014 was not on technology, digital tools, and gadgets but on the larger picture of relevant education topics – opening opportunities for students to learn without the restrictions of straight rows of desks. This is the second in a series of posts on #ISTE2014 takeaways.

For schools to become (or remain) relevant to today’s learning, the use of time (schedules) and space (classrooms, media centers, hallways, lunchrooms, grounds) must be viewed with a different lens, a fresh perspective. And, so it was at #ISTE2014 as reflected in this roundup of sessions provided by Sylvia Martinez of how space is morphing to fit the needs of collaborative pedagogy and student-centered curricula – think Maker Spaces and Learning Commons. For example, take Revere High School in Massachusetts; the 1:1 iPad school adopted flipped learning and revamped library space for a Learning Commons, complete with a Genius Bar, where students earn internship credits for helping others.

While an advocate for collaborative learning spaces for some time, I continue to learn how schools are using “space and time” in new ways for interdisciplinary applications. Check out Bob Pearlman’s examples of innovation labs, maker spaces, and learning commons, along with fab labs, weCreate, and other redefining-learning efforts. These examples, including revamped media centers and classrooms, speak to the collapse of the traditional, industrial age use of time and space in providing a more visionary and relevant curriculum supporting student empowerment.

  1. Shattuck-St. Mary’s School weCREATE Center, Faribault, MN
  2. Innovation Lab @Ross School, East Hampton, NY
  3. The Nueva School – Innovation Lab, Hillsborough, CA
  4. Quest Academy Innovation Lab, Palatine, IL
  5. Cushing Academy Innovation Lab, Ashburnham, MA
  6. Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, Atlanta, GA
  7. The Innovation Lab of Newton Public Schools, Newton, MA
  8. Thompson School District Innovation Lab, Loveland, CO
  9. Da Vinci High School Innovation Lab, Los Angeles, CA
  10. Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS) STEM Center, St. Louis, MO
  11. MC² STEM High School FABLAB, Cleveland, Ohio
  12. Westtown Science Center, Westtown, PA
  13. The Idea Lab @ Gunn Library, Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA

Look for further posts on examining the importance of redesigning a school’s use of time and space. Until then, what are you doing in your schools to revamp time and space for learning?

#ISTE2014 Takeaway One: Maker Movement

Energy. Ideas. Flexibility. Openness. Learning. Sharing. These are only a few words to capture the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference experience. It is important to note that the focus of #ISTE2014 was not on technology, digital tools, and gadgets but on the larger picture of relevant education topics – opening opportunities for students to learn without the restrictions of straight rows of desks. This is the first in a series of posts on #ISTE2014 takeaways.

Maker Movement

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Maker Movement over the past few years, and #ISTE2014 had a fair share of sessions on the topic. This roundup, provided by Sylvia Martinez, reflects how the Maker Movement was showcased throughout #ISTE2014, including Gary Stager’s session Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. The room was packed, but I made it in to witness Gary’s energetic and passionate session to put kids back into the center of learning by “making.” He made the case of Schooling vs. Making and showcased Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show. Gary’s notes can be found here.

I look forward to reading Gary and Sylvia’s book Invent to Learn, which is on my desk, along with David and Norma Thornburg and Sara Armstrong’s book 3D Printing in the Classroom.

Meanwhile, you can find a wonderful book review of Invent to Learn by Kevin Hodgson at

For further resources, checkout ASCD’s Project Ideas, Videos, and Other “Making” Resources from the June 2014 Education Update feature, “If You Build It: Thinking with the Maker Mind-Set.” 

Are you undertaking a Maker Faire or undertaking the “Maker Movement” in your school or community? Please share!

Emergent Leadership for Learning Organizations

The conversation over at EdTechWomen on leadership sparked a reflection as to what characteristics are needed to be a leader, not a manager.

During my career as an educator, I have led professional development with a keen eye on servant leadership. Teacher voice and input is critical and often overlooked in traditional hierarchical organizations, which must give way for DIY learning and the push of market demand in an ever-increasing learning landscape of choice. In interviews with Tom Friedman and Adam Bryant, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, noted several characteristics that are very important in emergent leadership, which is critical in the hyper-connected, morphing world of learning:

Stepping In & Out of Leadership
Bock observes, “’What we [Google] care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else?’” The ability to step in and lead but also step back, letting others lead is key for we tap into the energies and thinking of others to tackle a problem, design new programs, or re-imagine what is possible.

Humility: Relinquishing Power
Bock believes humility is essential for learning by relinquishing power “’to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.’”

Consistency, Fairness, Predictability
Another key characteristic Bock cites is consistency: “’We found that, for leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability. If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.’” Being a leader is quite different than being a manager, and consistency, fairness, and predictability in leadership is an imperative to avoid the restrictive environment Bock mentions and critical for shepherding creativity and freedom to develop effective “moving forward” strategies for any organization, including schools. If team members are not sure of a leader’s (or manager’s) behavior on any given day, “moving forward” strategies are either stifled or never realized out of fear of backlash.

What do you think of these emergent leadership characteristics? Are learning organizations ready for them? Does your organization embrace emergent leadership?

EdTechWomen: What is Leadership?

EdTechWomen (ETW) has announced their speakers for the #ISTE2014 dinner event, an exciting lineup: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, CEO of Powerful Learning Practice, and Matt Wallaert, behavioral scientist at Microsoft. In preparation for the event, ETW has asked attendees to share their thoughts on leadership.

Their statements are powerful and provide reflection on our beliefs about leadership.

Making Decisions, Providing Guidance

Theresa Quilici, Library Media Specialist at Rome Middle School – “Good leaders are passionate, energetic, and knowledgeable of current trends. They listen to stakeholders, view issues from multiple sides, and then make decisions that guide their teams toward success.”

Providing and Accepting Timely Feedback

Martha Fairley, Director of Instructional Technology and Connect Online Learning at Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy – “Good leaders give timely feedback and create an atmosphere that welcomes feedback. Flexibility accompanied by the ability to regroup and move forward is a must of every good leader.”

No Dictating, Taking People Down, or Fear Tactics

Wendy Drexler, Chief Innovation Officer of ISTE – “A good leader listens carefully, respects the ideas of others, and uses her experience to build others up rather than dictate or take people down. I judge my success by the success of those I touch. Of course, integrity, courage, calculated risk taking, and dedication also go a long way.”

Elana Leoni, Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing at Edutopia – “The best leaders are those that inspire and motivate without fear tactics.”

On Motivation and Inspiration

Andrea Anderson, Manager of Integration and Customer Support at Atomic Learning – “A good leader does not simply take a group forward but helps to blaze the path by inspiration and motivation to help others achieve greatness.”

Anyone Can Be a Leader (title ≠ leadership)

Jill Thompson, Personalized Learning Program Manager in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools – “My motto is ‘You don’t have to be in a leadership position, to be a leader.’ Leadership to me is influencing others to take on challenges and help them produce solutions.”

Elana Leoni, Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing at Edutopia – “Leadership is a choice — not a rank. The best leaders are those that inspire and motivate without fear tactics.”

Beyond “The Normal” – Beyond the Comfortable

Michelle Cordy, Teacher and Applied Research at the Thames Valley District School Board – “Leadership is having the courage to say, think and do things that are outside the realm of what is happening and what is normal. It’s about acting a little differently to try and dent the world a little. A good leader makes their actions and rationale visible to others and invites others on the journey.

I look forward to learning more from others at the #ISTE2014 EdTechWomen event. What is leadership to you? How do you define leadership?


21st Century Learning: It’s Not an Either/Or Argument

There are those who believe that the list of 21st century skills bubbling up over that last dozen years – critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation – are not new. I would agree with that. However, what has changed is how teachers and students engage in these skills via digital tools. Moreover, I discount that if one uses digital tools in learning that traditional knowledge and skills – deep reading, scientific reasoning, and math – acquisition suffers.

Bottomline: It’s not an either/or argument.

21st Century Skills Are Not New – Yet, Some Things Have Changed: While 21st century skills are not new and have been at the core of sound pedagogy, even before industrial-style educational approaches, the use of digital tools has changed the landscape of learning and challenged teachers to be technologically literate. As Clay Shirky said, “When you change the way people communicate, you change culture.” And, that change in culture puts The Teacher in the midst of new learning which they must take on themselves and for students. This new learning does not set aside the necessity of students acquiring basic knowledge and skills but rather builds upon it in a dramatically different fashion than factory-model, Carnegie unit learning.

Critical Thinking: Learning while using digital tools does not ignore the importance of critical thinking. With teachers guiding students, which is not a new pedagogy, students can gain knowledge and learn to think critically by conducting effective Internet searches, ferreting out incorrect information, and verifying information before putting it to use in their own computer, the brain. True, good researching skills are needed with printed materials as well. However, learning to use selective keyword searches, Boolean searches, databases, and authoritative online texts is a relatively new skill. To think critically includes interpreting blog posts and comments, tagging, subscribing and annotating, within our personal space as well as our shared learning networks.

In order to think critically, a great deal of knowledge is necessary. However, how we gain the knowledge is what has shifted – titled the earth on its edge. What was once locked away in a library is now accessible in the palm of our hands and that fundamentally changes how and what enters our world – what gets our attention – as well as how we interpret and synthesize it, making thinking critically ever more important. Moreover, students who do not have the skills to navigate a digital world are at a disadvantage and may well become the next underclass.

Information via digital tools can be used to deepen our capacity to make observations and reach beyond our closed envelope by connecting and communicating with others beyond our immediate, face-to-face environment. To explore history from a different vantage point via gaming and sensory interaction. To see and manipulate the elegance and logic of science and math through interactive online activities. To understand the philosophical debates by not only studying them but engaging with others though digital learning networks. To mash-up ideas and create new ones.

Change that Learners of All Ages are Experiencing

Participatory Culture
: Yes, in the past (and today), we participated and collaborated in classrooms and neighborhoods – learning and playing. We’ll probably continue to do so to some degree. What has recently evolved is what Henry Jenkins coined the Participatory Culture, which calls for new media literacies – an outgrowth of a media-rich society. In his white paper, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, he calls for the needed skills in the new media culture which build upon the traditional skills taught in the classroom. Hence, new and emerging skills have been identified that are necessary for students to learn today for them to fully create and participate in their future.

Digital Citizenship: 
Yes, in the past (and today), we offered lessons in safety (don’t get in a car – or a buggy- with a stranger), public speaking, and civics. We’ll probably continue to do so to some degree. However, a new consideration has come about – digital citizenship, which includes new skills and considerations in preparing students for today and their future. We must share lessons with students that online communications are, as Shirky observed, “instant, global, and nearly permanent” and that one must cultivate digital footprints so he or she can be Googled well.

Collective Action: 
Yes, in the past, we have undertaken collective action in classrooms and neighborhoods – mock elections, food drives. We’ll probably continue to do so to some degree. Yet, something has changed. In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky observed, “Gathering a group of people and getting them to act used to require significant resources, giving the world’s institutions a kind of monopoly on group effort. Now, though, the tools for sharing and co-operating on a global scale have been placed in the hands of individual citizens.”  Today, we, teachers, must share lessons with students that they have the power to topple corporations and governments sitting in the palm of their hand. We must share lessons with students that they are in the midst of an upheaval of “how things have always been done.” And, we must share these lessons with students as we are learning them ourselves.

As part of learning new lessons, teachers must continue to be critical thinkers, become scholars, ask the right questions, listen for what is not said, seek out connections, and retool and remix their skills.

I look forward to your comments.

Running the digital river of learning with you,

Emily Vickery

The Future of Teacher Preparation & Social Entrepreneurs

This TechCrunch post Pathwright Launches Platform To Let Anyone Create, Sell Branded Online Courses is a must read.

Each course comes with a built-in social network for every student taking the course, allowing students to share notes, ask or answer discussion questions, and receive grades and feedback from teachers. Teachers can then publish their courses is a built-in, branded catalog and sell them directly, make them invitation-only, or offer monthly subscriptions that unlock all the courses. Educators can also offer online-only or location-based courses, or both, may be self-paced, or on a schedule with varying degrees of teacher interaction.

Now, what is described above is happening today. Thinking towards the future, perhaps teachers are prepared, not with courses, but with modules of experience embedded where learning happens – wherever that may be. Higher ed as we know it just ended; so, teacher preparation as we know it just ended as well.

In the future, teacher apprentices work with mentor teachers. Perhaps approach action research in conjunction with (or leading) “social entrepreneurs” by challenging them to solve a problem of Equity. Perhaps teacher mentors and teacher apprentices work with the future equivalent of today’s Stanford’s Innovations in Education course or those at Harvard Business School in Social Innovation Lab? (See Social Entrepreneurs Try to Offer Solutions to Problems in K-12) (Let’s don’t forget MIT’s Media Lab.) Instead of Race to the Top, perhaps it is Race for Equity?

Three examples of challenge sets (action research) put forth for these teacher apprentices and social entrepreneurs in the Race for Equity could be (1) close the Participation Gap (Pew Internet Report Digital Differences: Separate and Unequal in Digital Media); (2) reboot the public library system to continue the democratic ideal of free access to information and ideas by creating ebook or emedia repositories not tied to one format, such as Apple or Amazon, and checking out ereaders and mini-WIFI connectivity (See ZDNET series on the Digital Underclass); and (3) link economic development with education and wrap-around services in rural areas, including reservations for Indigenous populations and under served urban and suburban areas, e.g. lighting up dark fiber, National Broadband Plan, and the Summit on the Role of Education in Economic Development in Rural America, at which Education Secretary Duncan recently spoke. Further, numerous applications for special needs through universal access could be thought of, especially with the rise of Autism.

It is important to note that standards (Common Core or others in the future) not be used. Why? It’s important that standards not be used if going to scale and designing relevant, engaging curriculum (HOTS), global reach/partnerships, and application of Equity solutions on a worldwide market that are “made in America” AND can be replicated elsewhere. (See EdWeek commentary Does the Common Core Matter?) A universal language in learning products can be used. Digital Bloom Verbs provide a solution in content/product development and distribution would be the solution. Products could be tweaked considering the availability of infrastructure and mobility, e.g. low-tech, high-tech, bandwidth, etc. Ultimately, benefiting all children.


Teacher Collaboration: The Missing Link in School Reform

The Missing Link in School Reform is a must read. Using research, Carrie R. Leana identifies the predominant ideology (human capital) in public school reform (Power of the Individual; Wisdom of the Outsider; Principal as Instructional Leader) and outlines the reality (social capital) of how sustained, successful reform (The Power of the Collective; Reform from Within; and Principal as Protector) can be designed.

She writes:

These three beliefs—in the power of teacher human capital, the value of outsiders, and the centrality of the principal in instructional practice—form the implicit or explicit core of many reform efforts today. Unfortunately, all three beliefs are rooted more in conventional wisdom and political sloganeering than in strong empirical research. Together they constitute what I call the ideology of school reform. And although this, like all ideology, may bring us comfort in the face of uncertainty and failure, it is unhelpful and perhaps dangerous if it leads us to pursue policies that will not bring about sustained success. Our research suggests that there is some truth to the predominant ideology. Teacher competence does affect student learning. Outsiders can bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to tired systems. And principals do have a role in reform efforts. At the same time, our findings strongly suggest that in trying to improve public schools we are overselling the role of human capital and innovation from the top, while greatly undervaluing the benefits of social capital and stability at the bottom.

Her findings will not surprise teachers, who are very often marginalized from school reform policy development and understand the power of collaboration. However, the results may cause those who hold the predominant ideology to become defensive and dismissive.

What are your thoughts? Do the research results surprise you? Would you add another item to the list of successful school reform based on social capital?

Running the digital river of learning with you,

Emily Vickery