Following the “Sun”: Reimagining Learning and Constructing Meaning with Maker Faire

Last week, I discussed and presented a full lesson plan inspired by maker faire.  This project utilized the repurposing of a thrift store item with a product created using a Maker Kit: in my case, a 3D printed sundial.

This week, I revisited that lesson plan to think about it in the context of another learning style: constructivism.  In an examination of Richard Culatta’s perspectives, he would likely deem constructivism as his ideal learning theory.  In his TED Talk, Reimagining Learning, he states that there is a serious digital divide taking place before our eyes in the world related to learning theory and technology: “the divide between those who know how to use technology to reimagine learning, and those who simply use technology to digitize traditional learning practices” (Culatta).

As I was thinking about this idea of how learning theories impact education, and how my practices contest the formation of this digital divide, I conducted some research on constructivism.  In my research, I came across two articles: “Demographic Factors, TPACK Constructs, and Teachers’ Perceptions of Constructivist-Oriented TPACK” (Koh, et al, 2014), and “Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective (Ertmer & Newby, 2013).

When appraising the importance of thinking about learning theories and pedagogy, the Ertmer and Newby article helped me to understand why this assignment matters.  The link between effective learning experiences and learning theories “is not between the design of instruction and an autonomous body of knowledge about instructional phenomena, but between instructional design issues and the theories of human learning”(Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 44).  In other words, my focus on constructivism as the learning theory behind my lesson plan is not done simply for the sake of aligning with innovative practices or, specifically, “constructivism,” but to appeal to the human condition in an effort to fully and creatively engage students.  This is what “reimagining learning” is truly about.

Put simply, Ertmer & Newby state that “constructivism is a theory that equates learning with creating meaning from experience . . . [in constructivism] humans create meaning as opposed to acquiring it” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 55).  In their evaluation of the learning theory, the authors conclude that “[b]eing knowledgeable about [constructivism] provides designers with the flexibility needed to be spontaneous and creative when a first attempt doesn’t work” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 62).

The second article by Koh (et al) applies this theory of constructivism by manipulating the TPACK framework to support the creation of meaning.  This framework, called the “constructivist-oriented technological pedagogical content knowledge” framework, was tested for effectiveness among 354 practicing teachers in Singapore (Koh et al, 2014, p. 185).  It was found that teachers who have more experience are generally less confident than younger teachers when it comes to effectively implementing constructivist learning initiatives, such as project-based learning (Koh et al, 2014, p. 193).  This article suggests that constructivism can be effective technological pedagogical knowledge .  In theory, this model could serve as a framework to bridge Culatta’s digital divide, ensuring the effective integration of technology.

The Sundial working in action.

The Sundial working in action.

My plan for teaching that utilized the 3D-printed Sundial situates itself well amongst these constructivist ideologies.  At the end of the plan, students are assigned a project that mimics their learning and requires them to create new ideas derived from their understanding of the sundial learning activity.

To recap the plan, after study of the physical properties of the sundial to transition their thinking from literal to the metaphorical, students are tasked with thinking about an object–any object of their choosing (out of the box thinking is encouraged!)–and finding a way to relate it to time (the central concept for the lesson).  Once they have identified an object, they are asked to write a poem from the perspective of that object, in much the same way as Van Dyke does with the sundial in the sample of poetry that is discussed.  Some examples that students could create include a time capsule talking about carrying pieces of time as it watches time pass, how a tree perceives the passing of time, and so on.  Students must bring their object into class–they must replicate the item using clay, paper, etc. to create a model for “show and tell,” much the same as the sundial clock.  Piaget’s original constructivist philosophies are ever-present within my lesson–and by providing students with the agency to project their own understanding of meaning onto everyday objects, they are creating engaging products that can have an impact on the humanity of their fellow classmates.  Referring to Culatta’s ideals, again, my lesson not only manipulates innovative Maker technology, but also abides by the Maker philosophy that guides students to their own learning nirvana.

What I learned from my research was invaluable: the learning theory of constructivism has incredible potential to inspire students when used in conjunction with Maker faire.  Students who have been provided with the agency to create ideas and knowledge are forever stronger human beings than those who can merely emulate. This project has had a persistent impact on my understandings of how cognition and learning theory interweave themselves into the pedagogical strategies and frameworks that we take for granted.  I cannot wait to see the impact that it might have on my students.

 

References:

Culatta, Richard (2013). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0uAuonMXrg&safety_mode=true&persist_safety_mode=1 [Accessed 3 Jun. 2014].

Ertmer, P.A. & Newby, T.J. Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective.  International Society for Performance Improvement6, 43-71.

Koh, Joyce H.L. et al. (2014). Demographic factors, TPACK constructs, and teachers’ perceptions of constructivist-oriented TPACK.  Journal Of Educational Technology & Society,17(1), 185-196.

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2 thoughts on “Following the “Sun”: Reimagining Learning and Constructing Meaning with Maker Faire

  1. James,

    I found your connections between your lesson plan, your pedagogy, and constructivism intriguing. I think that science and technology content innately lend themselves to a constructivist approach, so I was pleased that you applied this learning theory to language arts skills. However, I’m wondering if you could have deepened the inquiry portion of your lesson. I’m not sure how much prior experience and direct instruction you’ve done with metaphors, but I would think this would be a challenging concept for many high school English students. Perhaps, you could have brought several physical objects (related metaphorically to time or other concepts) and had small groups examine each object and match them to concepts or ideas. If your students are well versed in metaphorical thinking then maybe you could begin the lesson by having them each bring in a physical object that represents something metaphorical to them and have them share the objects with the class or pair them up and have partners try to guess the connection between the objects and the ideas. I think that would be a good precursor to your writing activity and also provide some scaffolding for students that might be struggling with the notion of metaphorical language. I hope my insights were helpful.

    Thanks for sharing your lesson and thoughts.
    Kelly

  2. James,

    I enjoyed reading your post and learning more about 3D printers. I particularly liked how you tied together poetry with the sundial to create a unique learning experience and then extended the lesson for students to look at the objects around them differently. The research about TPACK and constructivism was interesting to learn about and I agree that it is important for us to use as we reimagine learning. To add to your findings, in Best Practices in Literacy Instruction, Almasi and Hart offer one perspective of how knowledge is attained, suggesting that learners “have to create understanding for themselves and transform their own thinking before knowledge is created” (p. 257). I think your lesson was really great and agree that by allowing students to construct knowledge for themselves, they are able to be more engaged and inspired. Thanks for posting your lesson and ideas, they were helpful to learn about.

    Lindsey

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