With less than a week left before students walk in to the schools, teachers across the country are busy spending their free time decorating, cleaning and organizing their classrooms to make the first day of school memorable. The display walls are covered with rainbow colours awaiting student work to be showcased. Name tags are laminated and stuck on tables and cloak rooms. Toys and manipulatives are organized in colourful boxes and paint brushes await their turn to be used and abused.
My school had a seismic upgrade and we have the added workload of having to move in to the newly renovated building and unpacking everything. We are also starting a new project called the MakerSpace. This is a revolutionary idea where a regular classroom is turned into an innovative, collaborative learning space. It is a place where children are engaged in real-life problems and design solutions collaboratively with the focus on the learning process rather than the final product. It is designed to move away from the 19th century structure of students sitting in rows and the teacher distributing content from the front of the classroom. Instead, children move dynamically in the space and make educated decisions about where and how they can work effectively.
Just because MakerSpace is set up does not mean that children will have the skills to work in the space effectively. Teachers still need to facilitate and model the learning process and make desirable characteristics for cooperative, reflective learning explicit. This collaborative space should be a communal space and should not belong to one teacher. What is needed is a designated person who can organize and manage the space so that it does not add more workload for other teachers in the school. If we want to change the culture of our schools and push toward blended-interdisciplinary-inquiry-based-interest-driven learning, we have to make it easier for teachers to access the new innovative ways of teaching. We have to help teachers understand that we don’t have to be an expert in MakerSpace or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to be able to introduce students to MakerSpace. It’s actually better that we don’t know everything because what better way to model to students about the learning process then learning with the students side by side? By modeling to the students that as teachers, we are willing to take risks, try new things, despite our lack of expertise will empower our students to do the same.
So why is there such a big movement towards MakerSpace? MakerSpace is a medium where teachers can begin to address the challenging issue of equity in the schools. Our students arrive in our classes from varying socioeconomic status and cultural background. Teaching through content-based curriculum does not begin to address the diverse needs of our students. George Jay Elementary school is identified as having one of the highest percentages of students living in poverty in the city of Victoria, BC. Approximately 30 % of our students are of Aboriginal ancestry, 41% speak different languages in their homes, and 12% of our students have a special education designation including: high and low incidence, behaviour, and gifted categories. As well, 45% of students receive Learning Assistance support.
Through working collaboratively in blended project learning, students will develop non-cognitive skills that will be relevant for their future in any setting. Current model of assessment focuses heavily on cognitive development by measuring intelligence through literacy and numeracy skills. It under values skills that 21st century global workforce will need. Skills such as reliance, self regulation, persistence, cooperation, empathy, flexibility, innovation, adaptability, and precision are what is going to help students be successful participants in the future; good test scores alone does not equate success in life.
To encourage effective peer-to-peer relationships so that students demonstrate relationships that are accepting and responsive to student diversity, teachers can facilitate collaborative learning, and organize classroom environment to support collaboration. Vygotsky places importance in cultural and social interaction between children and the environment. By understanding the Zone of Proximal Development, where the level of independent performance and level of maximally assisted performance lie, teachers can use scaffolding to facilitate the learning environment to meet the needs of the individual learner (Tools of the Mind, n. d.). Scaffolding allows students to learn new concepts in manageable chunks while receiving the necessary support for their individual abilities and needs. Once they accomplish the task, they can tackle new challenges and as their confidence grows through experiencing success, the support can be adjusted accordingly to encourage the student to work independently. Since learning is a social interaction, the teacher acts as a facilitator to create a learning environment that fosters “instructional strategies that promote the distribution of expert knowledge where students collaboratively work together to conduct research, share results, and perform or produce a final project, help to create a collaborative community of learners” (Neff, n.d.). Collaboration amongst students lead to heterogeneous grouping in class where students can interact in mixed abilities. Students can be taught to support each other in their learning to achieve the same goal. However, teachers must be aware of the individual support struggling learners will need to be successful.
Educators can advocate for their students by promoting interest driven curriculum with interdisciplinary focus. We can deliver the interest driven curriculum in MakerSpace, where we work in collaboration with other classroom teachers to meet the prescribed learning outcomes and create meaningful projects for the students. Leading by example and working in collaboration will also lead to coaching and mentorship. We can involve parents and the community in the creation of MakerSpace so that they are a part of their children’s learning process. Classroom can be turned into a MakerSpace where students will be learning through Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) education. MakerSpace can link the prescribed learning outcomes from across different subject areas and facilitate in creating projects that students would be interested in. By looking at students as “collaborators in the design and evaluation of their learning” (Zmuda, 2015, p.143), we will be able to design lessons that let students investigate, perform and something that could benefit the community and address the global context of our society. George Jay Elementary has a very diverse student population and therefore personalized learning becomes essential. We need to prepare our students for the unknown future and “to compete in a global marketplace, students must be trained to think, problem solve, imagine, and collaborate in the creation and use of new knowledge” (Zmuda, 2015, p.138). Designing a curriculum with students to incorporate personal experience, multiple subjects can create meaningful and personalized learning for students.
Neff, L S. (n.d.). Lev Vygotsky and social learning theories. Retrieved from http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/lsn/educator/edtech/learningtheorieswebsite/vygotsky.htm
Tools of the Mind. (n. d.). Vygotskian approach: Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from http://www.toolsofthemind.org/philosophy/vygotskian-approach/
Zmuda, A. (2015). Personalized Learning. In A. Blankstein & P. Noguera (Eds.), Excellence through equity (pp. 135-154). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.