School News

At FIS, faculty and staff learn, too
Posted 03/12/2020 13:16

Maker Learning is a way of experiencing educational content and subjects through the context of making, designing, fabricating and constructing. Stemming from the Piagetian idea of “learn by doing,” Maker Learning allows students to construct tangible artifacts of learning while also constructing mental models and cognitive associations to previous experiences. It’s the perfect blend of connections between subject matter and skill development. 

In October this year, nearly 30 FIS faculty and staff members from across campuses and grade levels participated in a four-day professional development on Maker Learning, facilitated by Mark Barnett who Zoomed in for the sessions from Thailand. “We were prepared to run an in-person workshop with all participants in one space,” said FIS Assistant Head of School, Dr. Michael Johnston. “But Covid-19 changed all of that. We considered a multi-location workshop for smaller numbers to protect the integrity of divisional and campus bubbles, or a maker workshop in 28 different sites from the homes of all the educators involved, but eventually set up asynchronous and synchronous sessions to maximize hands-on making, reflection and implementation. It worked brilliantly.”

During the workshop, participants were tasked with a wide variety of maker-based activities, from constructing with cardboard and building circuits, to coding in Scratch, a free programming language used to create interactive stories and animations, and using a “Makey Makey,” an invention kit designed to connect everyday objects to computer keys. “It didn’t matter whether we were using digital tools or physical products, scissors or ipads, it was the same basic process and there was so much learning to be had from going through that design cycle in a variety of different scenarios,” said FIS Design Technology Technician, Zach Woodburn. 

That process is at the heart of what maker education is about – giving students the opportunity to design, create, innovate, prototype, fail, re-create and reflect. And what better way to create authentic guidance in that process than for the school’s faculty and staff to experience it first-hand. “In workshops like this, teachers are empowered to become learning designers and learning facilitators, often taking on the roles of the student and maker to master their own crafts,” said Dr. Johnston.

In the week following the workshop, Design for Change teacher and Instructional Coach Robin Neal put into practice some of what he learned during the workshop, challenging his own students to create cardboard mascots connected to a larger campaign they will be doing in conjunction with the Upper School service group, Zero Hunger. “It’s about learning by doing,” he said. “I gave my students a few parameters and they worked together as teams to construct an idea going from nothing to a 3D model in just two class periods,” he said.

Over the past several years, FIS has placed a greater emphasis on Maker Learning, most notably with an impressive overhaul to the Upper School’s Design Technology labs, and well-supplied Makerspaces in all divisions across both campuses. But physical spaces are only part of the equation. Maker Learning also requires a pedagogical shift in school culture from traditional instruction to guidance and facilitation, and intentionally designing learning experiences that are conducive to making meaningful connections.

“Looking to the future, I feel that having a primary focus on ‘Maker’ at FIS will help educators to further cultivate creative learners that are not only equipped for, but ready to consider, challenges we haven't yet thought of for the future,” said FISW Grade 4 teacher and Maker Learning workshop participant, Karissa Thompson.

“When a school consistently revisits its practices and drives forward with new technologies and pedagogies, it truly serves the needs of today's learners,” added Dr. Johnston. “And in the 2020s and 2030s, we need more minds working on all of the things that surround a happy and productive society.”

Maker education – and all that is connected to the teaching and learning within it – is a solid step in the right direction.

Story contribution FIS World Staff Writer, Ricky Donnelly

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