The Freedom to Make

Every classroom should be a makerspace.

Every teacher should embrace constructivism.

Constructivism, the theory that knowledge is not something to simply be delivered to the learner, but something that is actively constructed inside the leaner’s head through experience, makes the most logical sense when one stops to consider how to learn best. It’s not a curriculum or set of rules, but a sound way of looking at the development of human knowledge and understanding. It seeks to free learners from their dependency on being taught. In the process of making and constructing, students are empowered to connect with everything they know, think and feel. Learning is socially constructed, as students share their ideas and enthusiasm with one another. The act of making brings confidence and joy. It replaces the mundane worksheet or cookie cutter project with something truly meaningful and personal to the student.

It is the theory that underlies all learning.

While there is something to be said for multiple learning styles, if we examine our own learning, most of us acquire new skills through tinkering, experimenting and building. We learn through doing, not through listening to someone explain it to us. And yet, this is how the majority of education operates and how the majority of teaching is structured. School ignores the realities of how we learn best and dismisses the realities of how most organizations and businesses operate, in favour of a more manageable and controllable style of learning.

The constructivist approach to learning is how children are first taught, but is quickly discarded and lost as they progress through the grades. If you look at any kindergarten classroom, constructivism is alive and well. Students are given the freedom to design and play; to construct worlds limited only by their imagination. There is no focal point in the kindergarten class. Instead, the whole room is an active learning environment, with various stations to tinker, design and make. In contrast, the middle or high school classroom is typically centered around the teacher transmitting from the front. Movement is usually restricted and collaborative tinkering and making is often not encouraged.

As students advance through the grades, teaching to the test and other so-called “priorities” take precedence, effectively removing the aspect of play from classrooms. There is just no more time to play or so they say! Students’ enthusiasm for school is at its highest level in kindergarten and slowly decreases as they progress through the grades. I strongly believe there is a direct co-relation between the decreasing freedom and play afforded to students and their increasing levels of dissatisfaction with school.

It is our responsibility to bring back this love of learning for our students. To give them the freedom to play and make things that they are passionate about. To provide them the opportunities to construct meaning on their own terms.

The problem of student disengagement in schools needs to be addressed, and it needs to be dealt with now. It is not going away. If anything, it is only getting worse.

Transforming our classrooms into makerspaces is the solution.

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