Our work focuses on supporting STEM teachers on ways to integrate computational making practices in their classrooms. Computational tools offer promising opportunities to engage in rich forms of STEM, but what does this look like in classrooms?
Computation is more than just programming code. It’s about arranging rules and behaviors, seeing how those rules unfold in the things we make. When the results are not quite right, we iterate by adjusting the rules, processes, and materials used. By blending computation with making, we get a process more focused on creativity and personal expression. It opens up opportunities for playful engagement and community-building in asking and answering questions in STEM.
Computational making becomes a way to ask questions about how the world works–through the design and construction of physical artifacts.
Our goal is to bring what we call Disciplinary Computational Making Practices, or DCMPs, to STEM classrooms. DCMPs include ideas like modeling, iterating, and troubleshooting. Instead of assessing whether students have obtained specific knowledge, these practices look at how students achieve “making” goals in STEM exploration.
In two participating school districts in the greater Boston area, we are working with teachers through a three-phase professional development model. The model involves computational play, teachers and students making together, and co-designing action plans for integrating computational making practices into their teaching. With this PD model, we ask: What elements in each phase of the model contribute to teacher learning outcomes? How do high school teachers change their relationships to practices and tools in their home disciplines, or their relationships to students to see each other as part of a professional learning community? And what is the impact of computational making on students learning in STEM classrooms?
Through playful engagement with a wide spectrum of tools and making practices, we’re working with teachers to define “computational making” for the future of STEM teaching and learning.
Phase 1: Exploration Feb to June 2018
STEM teachers do not always have experience in making, so we started with explorations of familiar craft materials. Our open ended prompts for “making” builds toward interactivity through forms of computing.
In Phase 1, teachers designed and built “something that moves” like paper automata and linkages; “something that interacts” like the operation game and a conductive maze. They have ample space and time to iterate, to model, to share their creations, and reflect on their processes and thinking, over the course of 12 weeks.
Teachers also grappled with how their experiences in making intersect with their STEM disciplines. For example, math teachers are are questioning the relationships between math in making – “do we think its better or worse, or does it matter, to use the math to make the thing, or to try to fit the math to the thing?”
Phase 2: Full-Week Workshop Summer 2018
In Phase 2, participants gained new insights on what engaged STEM learning can look like in the classroom in a week-long summer workshop. In late June 2018, we ran a full week workshop in each of the two school districts, and later in early July, ran another week at one location.
Our participating teachers and youth area were presented with a co-making challenge. We asked participants to imagine ways of enhancing public spaces by designing and building things that would draw attention to problems or issues in their communities. The theme for the week was “movement,” which could be interpreted literally, as in making things move, or figuratively, as in social movements or the movement of ideas and people. And they rose to the challenge. Teachers and youth worked together in small groups, iterating prototypes and ideas using craft tools (e.g., scissors, hot glue gun, cardstock) and transitioning to advanced makerspace technologies (e.g., laser cutters, cnc routers, 3D printers) as their vision evolved and solidified.
Our workshop design promoted collaborative problem-solving, revealing the process of struggles and incremental successes within each group project. As participants gained experience learning from their own mistakes and from others, they were positioned as resources for others with similar goals, teaching others best practices for working with new tools, softwares, or processes. This is powerful to see in action across different ages, free from traditional classroom roles.
Phase 3: Making in Classrooms September 2018
Taking inspiration from exploring the disciplinary connection in making, and the co-learning practices of Phase 2, teachers design units and lessons for their classrooms to engage students’ hands and minds in creative STEM inquiry.