Douglas Park School (TLIF 4-055) - Developing key competencies and digital capabilities through maker spaces: preparing future capable learners Publications
In this project, a team of teachers and school leaders experimented with connecting maker pedagogy with the school’s core beliefs and offering rich cross-curricular learning opportunities utilising technological materials and practices, including digital technology.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Shaun Harkness, Gareth Sinton, Sophie Macdonald, Amy West, James Riley, Rosie Puddy and Kiri Eagle.
Date Published: August 2020
Douglas Park School had developed its own interpretation of the key competencies as a set of ‘core beliefs’ regarding the knowledge and capabilities students should be developing at their school. They had also been experimenting with aspects of maker culture. However, the two foci were not connected. The core beliefs were not part of students’ mindset or explicit in teacher pedagogy, and the experimentation with maker culture was an add-on that enabled some students to flourish in terms of their learning in the digital technologies, but that was not connected to other curriculum learning and was not inclusive of all students.
In this project, a team of teachers and school leaders experimented with connecting maker pedagogy with the school’s core beliefs and offering rich cross-curricular learning opportunities utilising technological materials and practices, including digital technology. The team found that they could successfully grow student competence across dimensions such as critical thinking, learner agency, and creativity. Students who had not previously enjoyed a great deal of curriculum success could succeed in this context. The teachers could incorporate this new focus within the classroom curriculum without diminishing student achievement in traditional domains of learning, such as numeracy and literacy. The power dynamic between teacher and student was changed, and learning became more purposeful and more fun.
The real trick came though, when the kids had to speak about what they had made, and say how it shows their learning … it’s fair to say that these 6 year olds have a better understanding of our solar system than I ever have! And now there’s no going back…. And the best part? Every single child, no matter their maths stage, their reading and writing level, no matter what their learning ability or home life was like; no matter their circumstances: every single child had created something and was able to show and articulate their learning. “Making to show learning” for the win!
The inquiry team was led by Shaun Harkness. The other members of the team were Gareth Sinton, Sophie Macdonald, Amy West, James Riley, Rosie Puddy and Kiri Eagle.
The project had one critical friend: Ben Laybourn (Evaluation Associates) and one expert partner: Mark Osborne (Leading Learning).
The inquiry story
This inquiry involved five classes from years 1 to 6, in a range of collaborative environments. It was particularly focused on girls and on students with limited access to digital technology at home.
What was the focus?
A review and refresh of the strategic direction for Douglas Park School had included committing to future-focused pedagogy and to growing teacher and student capability in relationship to the key competencies. The school had re-framed the competencies as a set of ‘core beliefs’: agency, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
Teachers had experimented with the creation of maker spaces, but this work had tended to be seen as an add-on and was not explicitly focused on fostering the core beliefs. The school believed a shift in pedagogy was needed to create a maker culture that would impact on students’ ability to understand, apply, and transfer the school’s core beliefs and that this would also lead to improved outcomes in terms of the Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum.
What did the teachers try?
The project team adopted and sought to apply the features of a powerful maker pedagogy, as they are described by Mandi Dimitriadis (Makers Empire):
- Students are positioned as active participants in their own learning.
- New and exciting materials, including digital tools, are used for maker-based projects.
- Students are supported to become powerful learners.
- Learning involves a lot of fun, but it also involves challenge and high expectations.
- The role of failure in learning is valued.
- Students are encouraged to manage their own time and plan approaches and processes they will use.
- The role of the teacher as a lead learner is valued.
- Learning as a collaborative endeavour is promoted.
The team also:
- focused on three assessment for learning capabilities: clarity about the learning, learning environments, and student involvement
- developed a tool to monitor student progress in terms of knowing, understanding, applying, and being able to transfer their learning about the core beliefs.
The project unfolded in three collaborative inquiries, following the spiral of inquiry. Teachers working at different year levels tried different approaches to suit the developmental needs of their students.
In the Year 0-2 classes, the focus was on incorporating maker space pedagogy within a play-based learning environment. The teacher introduced ‘provocations’ that provided students with opportunities to use a range of tools and skills for making and creating. This was supported by explicit teaching of the skills and tools the students needed to be able to succeed at the provocations. For example, one provocation invited students to use materials such as popsicle sticks and rubber bands to make a propeller for a Jolly Rogers boat. The materials were made available to students, but it was for them to decide whether and how they would use them.
In the years 3–4 class, the focus was on making the transition from play-based learning to problem- or project-based learning within a maker space. There was explicit teaching of both maker skills and core beliefs, which then fed into the wider making programme that occurred within the morning learning. For example, students explored the four aspects of hauora and then used cardboard construction techniques to create their own whare tapa whā model. They then identified the weakest dimension of their hauora and a specific problem they had with it, before designing a potential solution.
In the years 5–6 class, the development of a maker space was designed to integrate the students’ maker learning during their literacy programme. Design thinking was a major focus for this age group. For example; explicit teacher instruction was followed by the Chapter Chat reading programme, which included student driven provocations.
What happened as a result of this innovation?
The team identified the following changes to teacher knowledge, practice, values, and attitudes:
- Teachers offered maker experiences that utilised a widening range of materials, tools, and skills.
- Maker learning experiences became part of the daily timetable and the amount of time for it increased.
- The teachers designed maker experiences that promoted the maker process and were purposeful and exciting.
- They increased the opportunities for student-led experiences that fostered student ownership of their learning.
- There was an increased focus on teaching to the core beliefs. This included fostering a growth mindset and the capabilities required for problem solving, collaboration, and time and self-management.
- They became increasingly focused on open-ended, process-driven, problem-solving learning.
- Teachers came to value maker learning as an integral part of the school curriculum.
- They became increasingly confident as leaders and learners of maker learning experiences.
Teachers grew in relationship to all three of the assessment for learning capabilities they had targeted. For students, the effect of these changes included:
- increased opportunities for student-led discussions and co-constructed learning
- greater clarity about the learning and improved opportunities for feedback, reflection, and sharing
- growing confidence in talking about the core beliefs and monitoring their development
- the ability to participate more deeply in learning conversations.
The project data reveals significant improvements in the number of learners who can explain the four core beliefs and describe their progress in developing the associated capabilities. It also shows a substantial gain in the number of learners able to apply, or transfer, their core belief understandings within or beyond their class learning experiences.
All students made progress with regard to the outcomes of the digital technology curriculum, and this was equitable for boys and girls and for those with or without access to digital technology at home. Some students, who had struggled in more traditional domains of knowledge, found that they were the experts in maker culture and were able to take on roles as mentors and leaders.
While the time spent on traditional learning activities around literacy and numeracy was reduced, student progress in these areas was not lessened. This was achieved in the context of learning activities that students enjoyed and in which they had created outcomes that they were proud to showcase.
What did they learn?
The team learned that there needs to be a balance between teacher-led and student-led learning. For the latter to happen, students first needed scaffolding to develop the requisite maker capabilities and skills and to make connections between what they were learning in terms of the core beliefs and digital technology.
As the project developed, a categorisation system emerged of four types of making, each associated with a different kind of balance in terms of the degree of teacher or student leadership of learning. The four types of making are:
- Making for the fun of making
- Making to learn a skill or practise a core belief
- Making to solve a problem
- Making to show learning
The labels are not seen as exhaustive, but did prove helpful for planning learning experiences that provided a balance of opportunities for student ownership, skill, and competency development, and for the provision of rich, contextualised learning and the meaningful application of the skills and competencies. They provide a framework for setting up maker tasks and provocations: “What type of making will the students be engaging in and what core belief/s will this be helping them to develop?”
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For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader, Shaun Harkness, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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