A Maker School using Blended Learning
Maker schools are imperative next steps within the makerspace movement that is more than a space within the building as it embodies the spirit of creating infinite places where learners can explore and create projects of their own interest or solution to problems using a variation of materials and tools ranging from physical to virtual. The absence of exposure is greatly limiting students’ mindsets and school can not only continue these limitations but impose additional ones that demote the importance of making.
Makers are programmers, painters, builders, architects, carpenters, bakers, welders, tinkerers and so much more. The deficit can be addressed by a ripple effect of exposure as sparks are ignited within students building, testing, creating and innovating to solidify problem solving skills. This learning will be student-centered then as they are given the choice to voice their maker activity it will create deep authentic learning experiences in which the students take ownership and begin to develop intrinsic motivation to become lifelong learners.
This literature will explore how the maker mindset can be extended to create a maker school and how blended learning using the COVA approach can improve learners’ mindsets. This review will also examine how the maker mindset and tinkering can lessen the problem-solving skill deficits and the how the application of an effective computer science curriculum can improve students’ problem-solving abilities.
Attributes, Nature, and Explanations of Maker School
In the literature makerspaces are referred to as a room or dedicated space in which students can use their imagination to make something. The spaces are many time limited to a small room, computer lab or library containing only a Lego wall. There are other makerspaces where students have access to 3-D printers and/or robotics with computers equipped containing the software to program them. (https://www.makerspaces.com/what-is-a-makerspace/)
Makerspaces in public libraries tend to have a myriad of maker materials to tinker with from Legos to sewing to video production. The varied materials are great for students who are interested in making more than computer programs or Lego figures. Due to budget limitations, the makerspaces have one to two staff members to take out the materials and take time to initiate a project or creation by learners. The nature of the makerspace movement is to set out a place where students can use, many times, limited materials to “imagineer”. Using limited engineering processes and unlimited imagination the sky is beyond the limit. (http://renovatedlearning.com/2015/04/02/defining-makerspaces-part-1/)
Blended Learning with the COVA approach
Blended learning is not being utilized as it was intended but rather as an overlay of technology on the traditional brick-and-mortar factory model created over a century ago (Horn & Staker, 2015). True blended learning combines more than technology and a one size fits all model in which to use it. Complex problem solving as a core skill is predicted to be in high demand in over 36% of all industries over the next three years alone. Unfortunately, the current education system is not preparing students to meet this projected demand to enter these industries varying from computer science to healthcare (World Economic Forum, 2016).
In the blended learning model applying the COVA (Choice, Ownership, Voice and Authenticity) approach is paramount to meeting its highest levels of potential success (Thibodeaux, Cummings, & Harapnuik, 2017). Each component of the COVA approach will help us to best see the impact that blended learning can have within a school system. By far, authentic learning experiences for students to not only gain deeper learning experiences but a lifelong ability to learn is the foundation of problem solving skills. Students can apply this knowledge in sustaining ways that ignite sparks within them explore and create until they master critical thinking (Horn & Staker, 2015).
The use of coding allows students to practice communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity to help prepare them for the 21st century (kodable.org; September 2015). Programming adds a layer to these skills as Meriam Webster defined it as a sequence of coded instructions that can be inserted into a mechanism (such as a computer).
Problem solving is navigated through a flow chart as the program is created and/or innovated. Robotics programs has been on the forefront of the STEM initiative and research shows that early exposure to these resources have been great investments when properly constructed. The exposure of these areas is helping to create solid foundations in skillsets that many employers indicate are increasingly needed in the learners of the future to fill positions or create careers. As one generation retires we make sure that the next generation have not just learned what was taught but have sparks ignited within them to create, innovate and eradicate current issues.
In the dictionary, computer science is defined as the science that deals with the theory and methods of processing information in digital computers, the design of computer hardware and software, and the applications of computers. Our intermediate campus consists of fifth and sixth grade students who have state mandated requirement that are currently not tested directly through a state assessment (TEA Chapter 126. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Technology Applications).
Texas has updated its technology standards and within our intermediate we should not only introduce fifth grade students to the applications of computers but the state specifically expects the students to collect, analyze and represent data using various tools including programming languages. At this grade level, the state of Texas also expects students to collaborate and communicate not only locally but using digital tools. Research has shown that the state’s assumption that the use of digital tools and resources can reinforce and promote learning. The updated technology standards indicate that at the sixth-grade level the expectations should build on previous fifth grade knowledge so that students can now explore complex systems or issues using various technology. They will extend on this knowledge so that learning is deeper by making a prediction then having a discussion of trends and possible outcomes then if needed and review results.
Sixth-graders should also begin using blogs to enhance communication and collaboration, and design a computer program. While our campus tends to stay current with the technological trends the return on investment is not nearly as high as it could be given that the surface of the state standards or research based competency applications aren’t even scratched. The technology and underlying components that are included within a computer science curriculum has shown through research that competency in critical thinking, complex problem solving, applying current knowledge to new problems and the innovation of solutions.
Establishing a Maker School using Blended Learning
Now more than ever there is a pressing need for problem solving skills and technology can be a catalyst instead of a disruption in this regard if driven instead of ridden on. There is a push of STEM and/or STEAM programs given that the field of technology creates new positions that go unfilled each year. This shortfall of qualified employees is increasing within many non-technical industries that need employees who can use the technology to help solve complex problems and how to create innovative solutions when the technology alone is not enough. Many federal economists attribute about 30 percent of the change in the U.S. unemployment rate during the Great Recession to skills mismatch (Carnevale, A.P., Smith, N. & Strohl, J, 2013).
Through several research studies it has been found that applying a problem-solving method to the learning environment allowed students to improve in other areas such as students’ originality and flexibility when given course work (US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health). Rafe Esquite, reminds us that it takes more than natural smarts and skills to instill the drive and character necessary to transform children’s natural gifts into extraordinary results. The top three diseases in the world have no cure although there have been some advances for patients to live years after diagnosis but not all live full lives or live at all. The improvement of students’ originality and flexibility would get them off just the pages of the medical procedure books discovering new idea that help them act and make a possible solution.
Implementation of an innovation plan that helps to establish a maker school mindset using blended learning will be initiated in segments. Each segment includes online learning with at least some element of student control. If students aren’t allowed to control time, place, path and/or pace then it is not truly blended learning. As the plan progresses there will be continuous chances for integrated learning experiences and opportunities for students to make things that interest them as well as ignite a spark of intrinsic motivation. Establishing a maker school will start with one makerspace at a time and hopefully create a school where there are endless chances and unlimited areas to innovate and tinker for lifelong learners in the making. (Horn & Staker, 2015)
Thibodeaux, Cummings, & Harapnuik (2017), International Journal of ePortfolio Volume 7, Number 1, 1-12 http://www.theijep.com ISSN 2157-622X
Horn, M.B. & Staker, H (2015) Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools Foreword by Christensen, C.M.
(World Economic Forum) http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/skills-stability/
City Nozari, A.Y. & Siamian, H; (2014) The Effects of Problem-Solving Teaching on Creative Thinking among District 2 High School Students in Sari Dec; 26(6): 360–363. Published online 2014 Dec 14. doi: 10.5455/msm.2014.26.360-363 PMCID: PMC4314176 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4314176/
Carnevale, A.P., Smith, N. & Strohl, J; June 2013 Recovery: Job growth and education requirements through 2020 https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.FR_.Web_.pdf
Meriam Webster Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/program
After school alliance http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/documents/STEM-Afterschool-Outcomes.pdf
computer science. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved July 3, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/computer-science
Chapter 126. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Technology Applications
Subchapter A. Elementary (revised September 2011; Applicable starting the 2012-2013 school year) http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter126/ch126a.html#126.7
Esquith, R. (2009) Lighting Their Fires