Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom

In the best-selling STEM Education guide, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, authors Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager explore many important concepts that contribute to a nurturing environment for making in the classroom.

An essential element to succeeding with ‘making’ is the ability to seamlessly pair art and science through innovative project-based learning. So what is involved in creating the perfect project to encourage making, creativity and learning? Here are the eight elements Sylvia and Gary feel are most import to achieving success in project-based learning.

1. Purpose and Relevance

Is the project personally meaningful? Does the project prompt intrigue in the learner enough to have him or her invest time, effort, and creativity in the development of the project?

2. Time

Sufficient time must be provided for learners to think about, plan, execute, debug, change course, expand, and edit their projects. Class time affords students equal access to expertise and materials; projects may also need sufficient out-of-school time.

3. Complexity

The best projects combine multiple subject areas and call upon the prior knowledge and expertise of each student. Best of all, serendipitous insights and connections to big ideas lead to the greatest payoff for learners.

4. Intensity

Think about how long kids can spend mastering a video game, reading a favorite book series, memorizing the attributes of Pokemon, or building a tree house, and you have a good template for successful project-based learning.

5. Connection

During great projects students are connected to each other, experts, multiple subject areas, powerful ideas, and the world via the Web. The lessons learned during interpersonal connections that are required by collaborative projects last a lifetime.

6. Access

Students need access to a wide variety of concrete and digital materials anytime, anyplace. Personal student laptops make this possible, but we also need to think about the quality and quantity of craft materials, books, tools, hardware, software, and Internet access that allows learners to follow paths we may never have anticipated.

7. Shareability

This is the big idea of project-based learning! Students need to make something that is shareable with others. This provides a great deal of motivation, relevance, perspective making, reciprocal learning, and an authentic audience for the project. “A project is something you want to share” is a sufficient definition for learners of all ages.

8. Novelty

Few project ideas are so profound that every child needs to engage in its development in every class, or year after year. If one student makes a fantastic discovery during a project, others can learn from it without slavishly repeating the steps of the pioneering student. In a healthy community of practice, learning continues and knowledge is shared naturally without coerced repetition.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Waag Society.

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