Monday, April 17, 2017

Why Every School Needs A Makerspace

Image: Remake Learning
Thinking, like human nature, is diverse - abstract, practical, linear, holistic, critical, generative, convergent, divergent, rational, lateral, analytical, logical emotional, analytical and a whole lot more. We have our preferred or comfortable ways of thinking but blend our thinking in different ways according to context - sometimes its better to focus hard on something and break it down into smaller more manageable bits while other times its better to zoom out, look for connections and analogies or let your mind wander.

Learning, like human nature, is diverse - conditioned, programmed, constructed, individual, social, private, open and a whole lot more. We have our preferred or comfortable ways of learning but blend our learning according to context - sometimes its better to read something while other times its better to have a conversation, watch someone do something or try doing something ourselves.

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it’s not open” ~ Frank Zappa

Like a balanced diet, thinking and learning diversity is good for mental health and wellbeing - it helps prevent narrowing of the mind and "getting stuck in a rut" - it provides a toolkit and range of responses and options for different circumstances and different types of problem. We need different blends of thinking and learning for different types of problem and in different situations. Using the wrong blend of thinking or learning could be disastrous - using pure emotion when numbers need to be crunched is as bad as using only rational analysis in social interactions.

Different points of view
Thinking and learning diversity enriches us all both individually and collectively. The "cross fertilisation" opportunities in a diverse thinking and learning polyculture are a rich source for for creativity and innovation - a combination can achieve more than the sum of the individual parts alone.

“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” ~ Tim Berners-Lee

Thinking and learning diversity plays an important role in being able to adapt to changing circumstances - having a range of skills, abilities and ways of thinking and learning is essential when it comes to uncertainty, the unknown .... and preparing for the future.

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. ~ Abraham Maslow (The Psychology of Science)

"Most existing education systems at all levels provide highly siloed training and continue a number of 20th century practices that are hindering progress" 
The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 

In meeting the challenge of educating large numbers of people education systems have tended to look for mass effects through the economies of scale possible through specialisation, standardisation and development of a monoculture of explicit knowledge that can be more easily codified, packaged, delivered, consumed, tested and graded.

“using the language of knowledge is no proof that they possess it." ~ Aristotle

The real world is diverse and does not fit straightforwardly into a standard education framework - perhaps its time to start accommodating real world thinking in the education system - not only can it motivate improving results but also better prepare our young people to face new challenges in the future. 

"Learning is experience. Everything else is just information." – Albert Einstein

What we consider as learning has in many ways become narrowed to remembering explicit content ...  most often conditioned by working through a program, package or scheme of work and by listening to a teacher. However, our learning, like human nature, is very diverse - our learning is also constructed through practical experience and experiment.

People are more than just minds to be filled or programmed in front of a screen - people have bodies, feelings and emotions and live in a real world. When people try to do things and fail or succeed, emotions are triggered, and these have a significant effect on how we learn.

If you think about the things you remember best they are probably the things in which you have been actively engaged in some way. Seymour Papert’s research convinced him that children (and for that matter adults) learn more efficiently if they could see a tangible result and that people are motivated and inspired to learn when they are using that learning to make something they care about.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that Active Learning Leads to Higher Grades and Fewer Failing Students 

“students learn more, which means we’re doing our job better. They get higher grades and fail less"

There is also a strong ethical component to explore active learning.

"There is a growing body of evidence showing that active learning differentially benefits students of color and/or students from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or women in male-dominated fields"

“The impact of these data should be like the Surgeon General’s report on “Smoking and Health” in 1964–they should put to rest any debate about whether active learning is more effective than lecturing.”

Repeated findings underscored an irony. Many of the world’s great scientists had been teaching with scant evidence to support their methods, something they’d never tolerate in their research.It’s just not how the brain learns, It does not learn to do these things by watching someone write on a chalkboard or by listening to them talk.

Using the traditional hour-long lecture to teach science, is like relying on medieval medicine while boxes of antibiotics abound. “It’s the pedagogical equivalent of bloodletting”

If you experience the condition of the problem, you’ll remember the answer much better. Lectures have it backwards. They basically give you the answer, then you practice it."

Education behind glass
For decades education has been making education increasingly two dimensional by flattening it in a managed learning environment behind the glass wall of the computer screen. For decades the PC has been the only game in town for education technology and variations of a screen have come to come to dominate our thinking about how we use technology in education. Today, a rich diversity of new technologies is emerging signalling the end of the screenage as we know it. 

Papert’s vision was that children should be programming the computer rather than being programmed by it - he saw computers and technology as "objects to think with rather than dispensers of information" and that "It’s not what you know about the computer that’s important, but your ability to do things with it." Papert also wrote about 

"the necessity for the educator to be an anthropologist. Educational innovators must be aware than in order to be successful they must be sensitive to what is happening in surrounding culture and use dynamic cultural trends as a medium to carry their educational interventions."

The PC era is already past and the end of the "screenage" is coming. For decades schools and colleges have built computer labs and put education in a managed learning environment behind glass but today they need to broaden their thinking to accommodate the wide range of emerging new technologies becoming available in the real world and invest in the economies of scope of makerspaces to blend a diversity of thinking and learning to make learning tangible - not only motivate better results but to prepare and give young people more options to face new challenges in the future. 

Image: InspireNshare Pop Up Thinglab 19 Make:Shift:Do 3D Printing

"The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report estimates that "65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist” and that even “old” jobs will look radically different in workplaces transformed by technology."

We cannot simply educate future generations for a life behind glass and for the jobs of the past, today or tomorrow but must educate future generations to be able to think, do, adapt and learn for a life in an unknown and uncertain future. The essential, crucial skill is the ability to think and learn. 

To add another dimension to education and to prepare for the future step away from the computer and the glass and into the makerspace.

InspireNshare focus on developing the value of people in an increasingly automated future and specialise in creative, holistic & cultural approaches with technology, learning, business and life - to find out more visit

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Learning: Juice, Blend, Fission Or Fusion

"We are made of star stuff"
Image NASA:  Taken Under the "Wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud  

Most of the education system is a legacy of fission ... the defining technology and mindset of the 20th century - a mindset of rational analytical, reductionism that splits things into smaller manageable bits that can be more easily conquered and measured. Education fission splits learning into many separate (even conflicting) parts that rarely mix and focuses on ever deeper specialisation and elitism. Educational fission is good for management and measurement but creates a set filter bubbles with all the conditions for memetic "in-breading" that reinforces the status quo and acts against innovation and change.

The education system has locked in systems thinking as the dominant thought process which sees education itself as a finite system of interconnected parts. At every turn of the gears the chain guards of the system keep education processes on track ... timetables and exams lock in subject boundaries and levels while league table results and inspection reinforce the self fulfilling prophecies of system good practice.

Education fission separates the practical from the academic and focuses on forms of explicit knowledge which can be easily codified, delivered, consumed, tested and graded ... helping the system to reinforce itself.

Exponential and combinatorial developments in information and communication technologies present completely different social challenges to those presented by the industrial and engineering technologies of the 20th century. 21st century technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics excel at the easily measurable and testable rational analytical reductionist fission material we find in the formal education system. 21st century technologies are set to displace the very skills taught and learned in our 20th century education system! 

Many recognise the problems of fission - it requires huge systems support, creates toxic by-products for future generations and can be weaponised. 
Fission is the act of cleaving or splitting into parts.

Fission Learning
Fission learning is the dominant method of learning in most education systems today. Influenced by rational analytical reductionism and logical positivism it deliberately breaks learning into separate elements, creates learner and subject boundaries and levels and focuses on measurement and verification.

Many recognise fission has broken education and attempt to put it back together again by juicing and blending learning.

Juicing gives you fruit and vegetable liquid and nutrients without fibre - your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the food and absorb the nutrients. The "nutrient express" of juicing makes nutrients readily available in large quantities - its a lot easier than eating fruit and vegetables. However, without fibre nutrient juice is absorbed into your blood stream quickly and if you are only juicing fruits, this would cause a rapid spike in blood sugar and unstable blood sugar levels can lead to mood swings, energy loss and memory problems. Fibre is also filling and without fibre in the juice, some people tend to get hungry again quickly.

Juiced Learning
Juiced learning attempts to make learning quicker, easier, more accessible and more digestible. Juiced learning removes the "fibre" of learning - things like failure, discovery, experiment, serendipity and serves you with a quick dose "nutrients" or facts ready for the job or passing exams. Juiced learning can be found in the Clockwork Orange drip feed juice of managed learning environments and computer based instruction where content is delivered anytime, anyplace for testing, measurement and verification. Juiced learning can be found in exam crams, model papers, bitesized and learning nuggets and the like. Juiced learning fits well with the fission learning system - makes it more digestible and gives a quick fix for results.

Blending creates a smoothie drink with both nutrients and fibre of the whole fruit or vegetable. Your digestive system has to do more work to absorb the nutrients in a smoothie than a juice but blending breaks down the fibre making it is easier to digest than eating while still filling and creating a slow, even release of nutrients into the blood stream that avoids blood sugar spikes. 
Blended Learning
Blended learning attempts to put learning back together again by mixing the different elements together and some of the blends keep the "fibre" of learning - the failure, discovery, experiment and serendipity. There are many elements that can be put in the blender - subjects, levels, techniques, technologies, locations, assessments, thinking styles etc. There are many types of learning blend but mixes with technology dominate although many seem no more than a spoonful of technology sugar to help the medicine go down. The blends I like to try are those that blend the boundaries between levels, subjects, techniques and technology  - InspireNshare Thinglab for example blends levels, learners, techniques, locations and technology with tangible learning. Thinglab 1 blended levels, subjects techniques and technology - we had students teaching teachers and other students, we had students researching and experimenting with technologies across subjects ... using 3D printing and augmented reality in sport, music and science for example.

Blended learning is a useful addition to the fission learning system - while it doesn't quite put learning back together again it smoothies over the cracks, puts some fibre back into learning and makes it more digestible.

Fusion or synthesis is the process of combining two or more distinct entities into a new wholeFusion requires energy or catalysis to get started but once fusion starts energy is given back and new things are made. We all come from fusion and depend on it -  stars like our sun are fusion reactors - giving off light, heat and the elements which we and our planet are made of - we are made of stardust a new study proves it.

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ~ Carl Sagan

Fusion Learning
Fusion learning doesn't just mix elements of learning together but fuses them into a new integrated whole ... or rather sees learning holistically from the start. There are so many definitions of learning but I take it as being a process that leads to change and transformation. Like fusion, I see learning creating something new  ... connecting skills, ways of thinking, ideas and experiences into something new for a person and most of all being able to inspire and share that learning with others and connecting learning to the real world.
The swirling Orion Nebula where stars are born Image NASA: The Orion Nebula

From the standard model of education fusion looks like nothing but a mess .. something that needs the analysis of fission to bring structure and order to. The standard model of education teaches us how to analyse, divide and break things down. The fusion model of learning is holistic and emergent and teaches us how to synthesise, create and bring things together - it brings together different learners, techniques, technologies, subjects, ideas and ways of thinking to find new perspectives, ways of doing things and connects learning to the real world. Most of all fusion learning is about learning, transforming knowledge into general transferable skills that can be applied and adapted in different contexts life-wide and life-long - essential given the fast rate of change and uncertainty predicted for the future.

Like nuclear fusion fusion learning requires a lot of energy to get going but it is possible to get learning fusion going under the right conditions - such as those proposed by SITRA’s New Education Forum for Finland. In Finland they have significantly reduced testing, broken down subject boundaries and connected teaching and learning to topics and activities in the real world.

"education and learning is not seen as something that is adapting to the changes around us. Learning can be an active force driving the change".

“We insist that education must not settle for adapting to change, but also act as a driver. To raise brave, compassionate citizens capable of independent thought and bearing the responsibility for themselves and for others; curious people, capable of finding things out for themselves and assessing the reliability of whatever information they come across. People with a tolerance of uncertainty, the courage to implement their ideas in practice and even break a few rules, if necessary.”

Makerspaces with project based learning are excellent catalysts for fusion learning - places where where subjects, learners, levels, techniques, technologies, the academic and the practical combine with tangible learning to make things. 

Learning Diversity

"Too much of a good thing is bad for you" 
"A little of what you fancy does you good"

Human nature tends to like binary choices and the education system seems to amplify this but a mixed diet of choice and diversity is more healthy, sustainable and fertile for adaptation and evolution. 

Diversity and interconnection are essential elements in evolution and innovation. To evolve, innovate and thrive in the 21st century education needs to shift from closed, disconnected and standardised practice to open, connected and diverse practice and include a diversity of learning methods. Education needs to not only add juice and blend to its fission but also embrace fusion to catalyse innovation, creativity, change, adaptation and evolution for a sustainable future for everyone.

InspireNshare focus on developing the value of people in an increasingly automated future and specialise in creative, holistic & cultural approaches with technology, learning, business and life - to find out more visit