Archivi categoria: Ed Tech

Technologies, apps, software for education, learning, schools

5 Things Our Parents Did That Would Get Them Arrested Today – ABC News

5 Things Our Parents Did That Would Get Them Arrested Today – ABC News.

Interessante vedere come cose normalissime della nostra infanzia sono oggi considerate pericolose e spesso, in paesi come gli USA, possono perfino condurre a problemi legali per i genitori:

1) Fare foto dei bambini, specialmente se nudi/in costume

2) Lasciare soli in casa o far circorare da soli nel quartiere bambini sotto i 14 anni

3) Non usare le cinture di sicurezza in auto

4) Sovra-alimentare: l’obesità come causa di revoca della patria potestà

5) Fumare in auto (oggi in effetti considerato comportameno barbaro)

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From Toy to Tool: How to Develop Smart Tablet Habits in Class | MindShift

From Toy to Tool: How to Develop Smart Tablet Habits in Class | MindShift.

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#edtech #edchat computer as piano tutor

Clever application of the technology to facilitate learning.

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#scuola : Troppo #digitale danneggia #apprendimento (come ogni eccesso!)

Mal di scuola digitale

Il colonialismo digitale è un’ideologia che si riassume in un semplice principio, un condizionale. Si può, quindi tu devi. Se è possibile che una certa cosa o attività migri verso il digitale, allora deve migrare. I coloni digitali si adoperano per introdurre le nuove tecnologie in ogni settore della vita delle persone, dalla lettura al gioco, dal supporto alla decisione all’insegnamento, dalla comunicazione alla pianificazione, dalla costruzione di oggetti all’analisi medica; la tesi colonialista è data per scontata dai coloni, che ne apprezzano la semplicità: è assolutamente generale, dato che si applica a qualsiasi cosa o attività in modo indifferenziato. Facile da ricordare, difficile da contrastare. Chi si oppone al colono digitale viene rapidamente incasellato nella categoria dei luddisti, dei distruttori di macchine, di quelli che non sanno stare al passo con i tempi. Il dibattito, secondo i coloni, non dovrebbe neanche iniziare.

In realtà, negare una tesi condizionale è prendere una posizione più debole, negoziale. Chi si oppone al colonialismo non per questo dice che le cose e le attività non digitali non devono mai compiere la migrazione digitale. Invoca il principio di precauzione; dice semplicemente che la migrazione non è un obbligo che discenderebbe dalla semplice possibilità della migrazione; e che deve essere accompagnata, perché tende a essere troppo invadente. Non basta mostrare un libro elettronico che funziona per imporre il libro elettronico. L’anticolonialista ha quindi tutti i diritti di rivendicare un atteggiamento positivo e costruttivo: la legittimità della migrazione dev’essere valutata caso per caso. In alcuni casi la digitalizzazione ha liberato, in altri no; e lo sappiamo già. A un estremo sappiamo che la fotografia si è affrancata ed è diventata, grazie al digitale, quello che avrebbe dovuto essere da sempre, un modo di prendere appunti visivi. A un altro estremo, sappiamo che il voto elettronico, e in particolare il voto online, presenta dei rischi imparabili di controllo sociale e manipolazione, e dovrebbe essere bandito per sempre dalle istituzioni democratiche. Ma entro questi estremi c’è uno spazio negoziale molto ampio in cui i casi particolari meritano una discussione; discussione che è del tutto assente e quando c’è viene mortificata dalla ripetizione ossessiva del mantra colonialista. La geolocalizzazione crea enormi possibilità ma queste non si accompagnano a enormi rischi per la sicurezza individuale? La condivisione immediata e senza riflessione della propria vita privata gratifica ma non espone i cittadini a forme sottili di aggressione commerciale e politica? L’educazione può trarre giovamento dalle nuove tecnologie o distrugge il capitale di tempo e di attenzione strutturata che la scuola dovrebbe invece faticosamente proteggere? Le nostre scelte individuali non sono sempre più condizionate da quanto ci propongono degli algoritmi? Il semplice fatto che queste domande possano essere sollevate indica che non si accetta l’ideologia colonialista; non certo che non si accetta il digitale. Non essere colonialisti non significa essere luddisti. I coloni e i colonialisti che offrono loro una sponda intellettuale hanno pronta una batteria di risposte a chi nega il «si può, quindi devi»; la ridda vorrebbe frastornarci ma dovrebbe venir vista per quello che è, un tentativo di parare con la quantità degli argomenti l’assenza di qualità degli stessi. Nell’ordine: le nuove tecnologie avrebbero poteri quasi magici per risolvere vecchi problemi sociali, in primis politica (M5S, ma anche Diebold) ed educazione (Prensky, Ferri); sono divertenti in sé e comunque più divertenti dei loro antenati (Google Mail); creano prodotto interno lordo e occupazione (ex-ministro Profumo); permettono misure oggettive dei risultati (Commissione europea); fanno tutti così, e chi sei tu per opporti (amici e colleghi che deplorano la vostra assenza da Facebook); e, ultima spiaggia, funzionano benissimo, nel senso che abbiamo riparato tutti i bug. Post-ultima spiaggia, se poi non funzionano, possiamo sempre trovare il modo di ripararle. La hybris non risparmia il lessico: vengono coniati termini come «multitasking» e «nativo digitale» che danno un’aura di scientificità agli argomenti.

Non basta quindi lavorare caso per caso, ma su ogni caso si devono soppesare questi molti e diversi argomenti. Prendiamo, tanto per fare un esempio, la scuola, e mettiamo da parte il «si può, quindi devi». Quali ragioni ci sono per introdurre le nuove tecnologie nella scuola? Non certo e non più il bisogno di colmare il digital divide: i ragazzi hanno più tecnologia a casa di quanta la scuola possa mai averne. Ma quale ragione, allora? La ridda riparte: «Ci sono delle attività educative incredibili che puoi fare con il computer; i ragazzi d’oggi sono così e bisogna adattarsi alla loro forma mentis; dobbiamo dare un accesso totale all’informazione totale; ha funzionato benissimo nel settore bancario, perché non deve funzionare nella scuola?». Ma sono argomenti ideologici. Bisognerebbe chiedere se esistono dei dati per giustificare gli investimenti in tecnologia. Per esempio dei dati sul rendimento scolastico. Certamente questi dati non c’erano (per definizione!) nel momento in cui le tecnologie sono state introdotte: la loro introduzione era un esperimento alla cieca, che la dice lunga sulla qualità delle decisioni pubbliche.

Uno studio recente di Marco Gui del l’Università di Milano Bicocca fa il punto su un esempio tra i tanti, il rapporto tra la frequenza d’uso dei media digitali e i livelli di apprendimento, andando a scavare nei dati del sesto volume del rapporto Pisa Ocse 2011, che coprono una popolazione di 450mila studenti quindicenni da 65 Paesi. L’analisi di Gui è quantomai interessante: le nuove tecnologie si associano positivamente all’apprendimento fintantoché se ne fa un uso modico. Non appena le tecnologie diventano invasive e colonizzano il tempo, il rendimento scende, a livelli inferiori a quelli che si hanno senza tecnologie.

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Vale la pena di fare un’osservazione metodologica: si tratta di associazioni e non di rapporti direttamente causali, per il momento, dato che l’identificazione di questi ultimi necessiterebbe di studi sperimentali. Tuttavia è più che abbastanza per farci venire il sospetto (il rapporto Pisa vede gli stessi dati, ma è più elusivo sulle conclusioni). Gli unici vantaggi (minimi) si hanno per quella che il rapporto Pisa chiama subdolamente «lettura digitale», un altro dei termini dalla semantica dubbia che fanno la gioia dei colonialisti, e che io renderei piuttosto con «spippolamento». A guardare da vicino, la «lettura digitale» è l’abilità di andare in giro per ipertesti, fare copia e incolla, cliccare per dire «mi piace» e cose simili. Ci sarebbe da stupirsi se almeno queste “competenze” non migliorassero almeno un po’ con un uso accanito del computer, e comunque a usarlo troppo anche queste regrediscono! Ma il punto principale è che le altre competenze, ben più serie: lettura, matematica e scienze, ne soffrono.

Assai impressionante è soprattutto il fatto che il rendimento scende molto di più se a essere colonizzato non è il tempo extrascolatico, ma quello scolastico.

E’ come se la scuola offrisse unaluardo all’erosione mentale prodotta dalle nuove tecnologie, e una volta il baluardo caduto, nulla potesse fermare l’erosione.

Roberto Casati – da il Domenicale n° 128 del 12 maggio 2013
IL libro a cui si fa riferimento:
Marco Gui; Uso di internet e livelli di apprendimento.
Una riflessione dati dell’indagine Pisa 2009.
“Media Education”, marzo 2012

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#education Next in line for #disruption coming from new #technologies and Massive Open Online Class #edchat

Napster, Udacity, and the Academy

by Clay Shirky November 12, 2012

Fifteen years ago, a research group called The Fraunhofer Institute announced a new digital format for compressing movie files. This wasn’t a terribly momentous invention, but it did have one interesting side effect: Fraunhofer also had to figure out how to compress the soundtrack. The result was the Motion Picture Experts Group Format 1, Audio Layer III, a format you know and love, though only by its acronym, MP3.

The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won, and it collapsed even more suddenly than it had arisen.

If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That’s not what happened. Instead, Pandora happened. Last.fm happened. Spotify happened. ITunes happened. Amazon began selling songs in the hated MP3 format.

How did the recording industry win the battle but lose the war? How did they achieve such a decisive victory over Napster, then fail to regain control of even legal distribution channels? They crushed Napster’s organization. They poisoned Napster’s brand. They outlawed Napster’s tools. The one thing they couldn’t kill was the story Napster told.

The story the recording industry used to tell us went something like this: “Hey kids, Alanis Morisette just recorded three kickin’ songs! You can have them, so long as you pay for the ten mediocrities she recorded at the same time.” Napster told us a different story. Napster said “You want just the three songs? Fine. Just ‘You Oughta Know’? No problem. Every cover of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ ever made? Help yourself. You’re in charge.”

The people in the music industry weren’t stupid, of course. They had access to the same internet the rest of us did. They just couldn’t imagine—and I mean this in the most ordinarily descriptive way possible—could not imagine that the old way of doing things might fail. Yet things did fail, in large part because, after Napster, the industry’s insistence that digital distribution be as expensive and inconvenient as a trip to the record store suddenly struck millions of people as a completely terrible idea.

Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt.

It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.

We have several advantages over the recording industry, of course. We are decentralized and mostly non-profit. We employ lots of smart people. We have previous examples to learn from, and our core competence is learning from the past. And armed with these advantages, we’re probably going to screw this up as badly as the music people did.

* * *

A massive open online class is usually a series of video lectures with associated written materials and self-scoring tests, open to anyone. That’s what makes them OOCs. The M part, though, comes from the world. As we learned from Wikipedia, demand for knowledge is so enormous that good, free online materials can attract extraordinary numbers of people from all over the world.

Last year, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, an online course from Stanford taught by Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun, attracted 160,000 potential students, of whom 23,000 completed it, a scale that dwarfs anything possible on a physical campus. As Thrun put it, “Peter and I taught more students AI, than all AI professors in the world combined.” Seeing this, he quit and founded Udacity, an educational institution designed to offer MOOCs.

The size of Thrun and Norvig’s course, and the attention attracted by Udacity (and similar organizations like Coursera, P2PU, and University of the People), have many academics worrying about the effect on higher education. The loudest such worrying so far has been The Trouble With Online Education, a New York Times OpEd by Mark Edmunson of the University of Virginia. As most critics do, Edmundson focussed on the issue of quality, asking and answering his own question: “[C]an online education ever be education of the very best sort?”

Now you and I know what he means by “the very best sort”—the intimate college seminar, preferably conducted by tenured faculty. He’s telling the story of the liberal arts education in a selective residential college and asking “Why would anyone take an online class when they can buy a better education at UVA?”

But who faces that choice? Are we to imagine an 18 year old who can set aside $250K and 4 years, but who would have a hard time choosing between a residential college and a series of MOOCs? Elite high school students will not be abandoning elite colleges any time soon; the issue isn’t what education of “the very best sort” looks like, but what the whole system looks like.

Edmundson isn’t crazy enough to argue that all college experiences are good, so he hedges. He tells us “Every memorable class is a bit like a jazz composition”, without providing an analogy for the non-memorable ones. He assures us that “large lectures can also create genuine intellectual community”, which of course means they can alsonot do that. (He doesn’t say how many large lectures fail his test.) He says “real courses create intellectual joy,” a statement that can be accurate only as a tautology. (The MOOC Criticism Drinking Game: take a swig whenever someone says “real”, “true”, or “genuine” to hide the fact that they are only talking about elite schools instead of the median college experience.)

I was fortunate enough to get the kind of undergraduate education Edmundson praises: four years at Yale, in an incredible intellectual community, where even big lecture classes were taught by seriously brilliant people. Decades later, I can still remember my art history professor’s description of the Arnolfini Wedding, and the survey of modern poetry didn’t just expose me to Ezra Pound and HD, it changed how I thought about the 20th century.

But you know what? Those classes weren’t like jazz compositions. They didn’t create genuine intellectual community. They didn’t even create ersatz intellectual community. They were just great lectures: we showed up, we listened, we took notes, and we left, ready to discuss what we’d heard in smaller sections.

And did the professors also teach our sections too? No, of course not; those were taught by graduate students. Heaven knows what they were being paid to teach us, but it wasn’t a big fraction of a professor’s salary. The large lecture isn’t a tool for producing intellectual joy; it’s a tool for reducing the expense of introductory classes.

* * *

Higher education has a bad case of cost disease (sometimes called Baumol’s cost disease, after one of its theorizers.) The classic example is the string quartet; performing a 15-minute quartet took a cumulative hour of musician time in 1850, and takes that same hour today. This is not true of the production of food, or clothing, or transportation, all of which have seen massive increases in value created per hour of labor. Unfortunately, the obvious ways to make production more efficient—fewer musicians playing faster—wouldn’t work as well for the production of music as for the production of cars.

An organization with cost disease can use lower paid workers, increase the number of consumers per worker, subsidize production, or increase price. For live music, this means hiring less-talented musicians, selling more tickets per performance, writing grant applications, or, of course, raising ticket prices. For colleges, this means more graduate and adjunct instructors, increased enrollments and class size, fundraising, or, of course, raising tuition.

The great work on college and cost-disease is Robert Archibald and David Feldman’s Why Does College Cost So Much? Archibald and Feldman conclude that institution-specific explanations—spoiled students expecting a climbing wall; management self-aggrandizement at the expense of educational mission—hold up less well than the generic observation: colleges need a lot of highly skilled people, people whose wages, benefits, and support costs have risen faster than inflation for the last thirty years.

Cheap graduate students let a college lower the cost of teaching the sections while continuing to produce lectures as an artisanal product, from scratch, on site, real time. The minute you try to explain exactly why we do it this way, though, the setup starts to seem a little bizarre. What would it be like to teach at a university where a you could only assign books you yourself had written? Where you could only ask your students to read journal articles written by your fellow faculty members? Ridiculous. Unimaginable.

Every college provides access to a huge collection of potential readings, and to a tiny collection of potential lectures. We ask students to read the best works we can find, whoever produced them and where, but we only ask them to listen to the best lecture a local employee can produce that morning. Sometimes you’re at a place where the best lecture your professor can give is the best in the world. But mostly not. And the only thing that kept this system from seeming strange was that we’ve never had a good way of publishing lectures.

This is the huge difference between music and education. Starting with Edison’s wax cylinders, and continuing through to Pandora and the iPod, the biggest change in musical consumption has come not from production but playback. Hearing an excellent string quartet play live in an intimate venue has indeed become a very expensive proposition, as cost disease would suggest, but at the same time, the vast majority of music listened to on any given day is no longer recreated live.

* * *

Harvard, where I was fortunate enough to have a visiting lectureship a couple of years ago, is our agreed-upon Best Institution, and it is indeed an extraordinary place. But this very transcendence should make us suspicious. Harvard’s endowment, 31 billion dollars, is over three hundred times the median, and only one college in five has an endowment in the first place. Harvard also educates only about a tenth of a percent of the 18 million or so students enrolled in higher education in any given year. Any sentence that begins “Let’s take Harvard as an example…” should immediately be followed up with “No, let’s not do that.”

This atypical bent of our elite institutions covers more than just Harvard. The top 50 colleges on the US News and World Report list (which includes most of the ones you’ve heard of) only educate something like 3% of the current student population. The entire list, about 250 colleges, educates fewer than 25%.

The upper reaches of the US college system work like a potlatch, those festivals of ostentatious giving. The very things the US News list of top colleges prizes—low average class size, ratio of staff to students—mean that any institution that tries to create a cost-effective education will move down the list. This is why most of the early work on MOOCs is coming out of Stanford and Harvard and MIT. As Ian Bogost says,MOOCs are marketing for elite schools.

Outside the elite institutions, though, the other 75% of students—over 13 million of them—are enrolled in the four thousand institutions youhaven’t heard of: Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Bridgerland Applied Technology College. The Laboratory Institute of Merchandising. When we talk about college education in the US, these institutions are usually left out of the conversation, but Clayton State educates as many undergraduates as Harvard. Saint Leo educates twice as many. City College of San Francisco enrolls as many as the entire Ivy League combined. These are where most students are, and their experience is what college education is mostly like.

* * *

The fight over MOOCs isn’t about the value of college; a good chunk of the four thousand institutions you haven’t heard of provide an expensive but mediocre education. For-profit schools like Kaplan’s and the University of Phoenix enroll around one student in eight, butaccount for nearly half of all loan defaults, and the vast majority of their enrollees fail to get a degree even after six years. Reading the academic press, you wouldn’t think that these statistics represented a more serious defection from our mission than helping people learn something about Artificial Intelligence for free.

The fight over MOOCs isn’t even about the value of online education. Hundreds of institutions already offer online classes for credit, and half a million students are already enrolled in them. If critics of online education were consistent, they would believe that the University of Virginia’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies or Rutger’s MLIS degreeare abominations, or else they would have to believe that there is a credit-worthy way to do online education, one MOOCs could emulate. Neither argument is much in evidence.

That’s because the fight over MOOCs is really about the story we tell ourselves about higher education: what it is, who it’s for, how it’s delivered, who delivers it. The most widely told story about college focuses obsessively on elite schools and answers a crazy mix of questions: How will we teach complex thinking and skills? How will we turn adolescents into well-rounded members of the middle class? Who will certify that education is taking place? How will we instill reverence for Virgil? Who will subsidize the professor’s work?

MOOCs simply ignore a lot of those questions. The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system, in the same way phonographs expanded the audience for symphonies to people who couldn’t get to a concert hall, and PCs expanded the users of computing power to people who didn’t work in big companies.

Those earlier inventions systems started out markedly inferior to the high-cost alternative: records were scratchy, PCs were crashy. But first they got better, then they got better than that, and finally, they got so good, for so cheap, that they changed people’s sense of what was possible.

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

If this happens, Harvard will be fine. Yale will be fine, and Stanford, and Swarthmore, and Duke. But Bridgerland Applied Technology College? Maybe not fine. University of Arkansas at Little Rock? Maybe not fine. And Kaplan College, a more reliable producer of debt than education? Definitely not fine.

* * *

Udacity and its peers don’t even pretend to tell the story of an 18-year old earning a Bachelor’s degree in four years from a selective college, a story that only applies to a small minority of students in the US, much less the world. Meanwhile, they try to answer some new questions, questions that the traditional academy—me and my people—often don’t even recognize as legitimate, like “How do we spin up 10,000 competent programmers a year, all over the world, at a cost too cheap to meter?”

Udacity may or may not survive, but as with Napster, there’s no containing the story it tells: “It’s possible to educate a thousand people at a time, in a single class, all around the world, for free.” To a traditional academic, this sounds like crazy talk. Earlier this fall, a math instructor writing under the pen name Delta enrolled in Thrun’sStatistics 101 class, and, after experiencing it first-hand, concluded that the course was

…amazingly, shockingly awful. It is poorly structured; it evidences an almost complete lack of planning for the lectures; it routinely fails to properly define or use standard terms or notation; it necessitates occasional massive gaps where “magic” happens; and it results in nonstandard computations that would not be accepted in normal statistical work.

Delta posted ten specific criticisms of the content (Normal Curve Calculations), teaching methods (Quiz Regime) and the MOOC itself (Lack of Updates). About this last one, Delta said:

So in theory, any of the problems that I’ve noted above could be revisited and fixed on future pass-throughs of the course. But will that happen at Udacity, or any other massive online academic program?

The very next day, Thrun answered that question. Conceding that Delta “points out a number of shortcomings that warrant improvements”, Thrun detailed how they were going to update the class. Delta, to his credit, then noted that Thrun had answered several of his criticisms, and went on to tell a depressing story of a fellow instructor at his own institution who had failed to define the mathematical terms he was using despite student requests.

Tellingly, when Delta was criticizing his peer, he didn’t name the professor, the course, or even his institution. He could observe every aspect of Udacity’s Statistics 101 (as can you) and discuss them in public, but when criticizing his own institution, he pulled his punches.

Open systems are open. For people used to dealing with institutions that go out of their way to hide their flaws, this makes these systems look terrible at first. But anyone who has watched a piece of open source software improve, or remembers the Britannica people throwing tantrums about Wikipedia, has seen how blistering public criticism makes open systems better. And once you imagine educating a thousand people in a single class, it becomes clear that open courses, even in their nascent state, will be able to raise quality and improve certification faster than traditional institutions can lower cost or increase enrollment.

College mottos run the gamut from Bryn Mawr’s Veritatem Dilexi (I Delight In The Truth) to the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising’sWhere Business Meets Fashion, but there’s a new one that now hangs over many of them: Quae Non Possunt Non Manent. Things That Can’t Last Don’t. The cost of attending college is rising above inflation every year, while the premium for doing so shrinks. This obviously can’t last, but no one on the inside has any clear idea about how to change the way our institutions work while leaving our benefits and privileges intact.

In the academy, we lecture other people every day about learning from history. Now its our turn, and the risk is that we’ll be the last to know that the world has changed, because we can’t imagine—really cannot imagine—that story we tell ourselves about ourselves could start to fail. Even when it’s true. Especially when it’s true.

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#kids #augmentedreality Bringing newspapers to children

Interesting news from the blog of new media analyst Luca de Biase.

AR News, an app through which the Tokyo Shimbun(Newspaper) created a new service where a smartphone changes articles for adults into ones for children. Then the newspaper became a media read by both parent and child and an educational tool for children.


I believe  this concept has hundreds of other possible applications!

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#Maker Space in #Schools: an educational opportunity for all

The “Maker” movement is gaining followers and attention. Ironically it’s from the “virtual”, “digital” world of bits that the come back of “atoms” has started. Not just electronic gadgets but everything from mechanics to weaving. These activities are very formative and allow for many curriculum-related activities. Here below an article based on the US situation. Here in Italy we are way behind in adopting digital tools in school (see previous post) as the lack of funds leaves even more basic needs unsatisfied. It’s difficult to imagine labs equipped with 3D printers and laser cutters, but a lot can be achieved with ordinary tools (and the help of willing parents)

Creating Makerspaces in Schools

From Edutopia NOVEMBER 6, 2012

Two weekends ago, I attended EdCamp NYC at The School at Columbia, an independent school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. One of the things I love about attending edcamps is that the day is always unpredictable because you don’t know what will be discussed or who will be leading conversations until that morning. What ensued was an inspiring day focused on tinkering, exploration and innovation.

A Day of Play and Exploration

The day began with a discussion led by Don Buckley, The School’s Director of Technology and Innovation, focused on design thinking in schools. Buckley used projects completed at The School to illustrate the various stages of design thinking, which include defining a problem, researching and creating a solution and a prototype, and implementing the solution.

Following this, my colleagues and I ran a session entitled “Programming with Food,” during which the four of us set up our new MakeyMakeys along with Play-Doh and various types of food ranging from tomatoes and grapes to potatoes and orange peels, to show how students can manipulate existing programs and websites using the MakeyMakey board and conductive materials — or build their own to manipulate in Scratch. We spent an hour watching amazing videos of what others have created using the boards, practicing some programming in Scratch and then playing with the boards and the cornucopia of food one of my colleagues brought along.

The day ended with a session on 3D printing run by Don Buckley and Jaymes Dec. The most important takeaways from this session were that 3D design doesn’t require a printer, that the design process is way more important than the printing, and that 3D printing is WAY harder than it looks (and WAY cool).

Design thinking, tinkering and exploring, designing and creating . . .

These are the essence of the many Makerspaces (also called Hackerspaces and similar to FabLabs) that have been popping up in cities across the country. These spaces are built by both young people and by adults, and more often than not, they provide a workspace playground for adults. Due to their success as an innovative approach to learning, many educators are trying to bring the concept into schools.

Why Makerspaces?

We are constantly bombarded with the idea that the U.S. is “behind” the rest of the world in STEM education, that our students need to be able to think critically, problem-solve and collaborate in order to succeed in the future they will inhabit. (Forget the fact that critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration are part of what schools should be designed to support in the first place.) Makerspaces provide creative time and, well, space for people of all ages to build prototypes, explore questions, fail and retry, bounce ideas off one another and build something together. These spaces don’t always include technology, since some prototypes and designs can be built out of anything or may include various stages of design that move from analog to digital and back again, but many do include technology. In the 3D printing and design thinking session, I was lucky enough to see how students might create a 3D design using CAD software, only to discover that their scale was off or that their prototype just plain won’t work.

Bringing Makerspaces into Schools

So the big question is: how do we bring these kinds of workspaces into schools so that every child has access to a safe, creative space for exploration?

There are a few different kinds of attempts being made at various schools. Some are creating ad hoc spaces by transforming existing spaces into after-school makerspaces through the use of tubs and other storage containers. This way, materials can be stored away during the school day.

Other schools are integrating aspects of design thinking and playfulness into the curriculum, providing time during the day or during a unit for this kind of free exploration.

Some are bringing makerspaces inside the school walls by creating electives or other special classes dedicated to creative exploration.

Many schools and community groups have used grant money and/or community support to fund the technology, tools and materials used in their makerspaces. Often, local businesses and tech companies are more than happy to contribute to what they consider the engagement and training of future employees.

MakerBot Thing-o-Matic 3D PrinterA MakerBot Thing-o-Matic 3D Printer at The SchoolCredit: Mary Beth Hertz

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