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Nicole Ricciardi

University of San Francisco

DTTL 643: Constructivism & Technology
Final Individual Project
Spring 2015 Dr. Linda Shore
Final Project
Grant Proposal: Designing Makerspaces for STEM-rich Constructivist Learning
Final Project Summary
The implementation of makerspaces in libraries and schools has recently
become a popular trend in education across the country. As an advocate for
hands-on, student-centered learning, I am an avid supporter of in-school
makerspaces. I recently developed a professional development workshop for
educators interested in designing makerspaces for their classrooms or schools
as a part of other coursework in the DTTL MA program. In doing research for that
project, I learned that makerspaces are fundamentally constructivist
environments that have a huge amount of potential to change the way we inspire
authentic, connected learning in todays young students. In addition to improving
learning outcomes, makerspaces introduce young students to design-theory
thinking and STEM-rich learning which are valuable assets to have in the twentyfirst century. Decades of research illustrate the benefits of inquiry-based and
cooperative learning to help students develop the knowledge and skills
necessary to be successful in a rapidly changing world (Darling-Hammond,
In order to outfit a space with more sophisticated technology, many educators
rely school budget allocations, donations, and grants as a sources of funding. For
this assignment, I decided use the grant proposal format to explore the actual
process of designing and funding a school makerspace at the University of San
Francisco aimed at at-risk K-12 learners from different schools in the community.
In explaining the project rationale, theres a heavy focus on constructivist
principles that support makerspaces in education as a valid learning practice.

I. Overview
The University of San Francisco School of Education is undertaking a new
initiative, the Makerspace Collaborative. The schools goal is to develop a
student-centered makerspace facilitated by School of Education (SOE) graduate
students in the Digital Technologies for Teaching and Learning program to
promote STEM-rich learning among at-risk K-12 students in the San Francisco
Bay Area. Defined simply, makerspaces are community-oriented workshops with
various tools. They combine manufacturing equipment, community, and
education to prototype and create manufactured works that wouldnt be possible
to create with the resources available to individuals alone. With the appropriate
tools and constructivist foundations in place, makerspace environments allow for
the enhancement of STEM-based learning. The university is eager to become a
more sophisticated player in the growing Maker Movement and promotion of
accessible STEM-rich learning among our youth.
II. Organizational Background
The University of San Francisco (USF) promotes an all-encompassing, studentcentered education for our twenty-first century students. The faculty and students
who are a part of the universitys School of Education are scholars and social
justice advocates engaged within the diverse San Francisco Bay area and
beyond. With over twenty masters and doctoral programs, our students seek to
make an impact and are committed to serving those most in need.
An integral part of USFs mission is to create a culture of learning through
innovative environments, programs, and tools that help people nurture their
curiosity about the world around them. The Digital Technologies for Teaching and
Learning (DTTL) master's program provides classroom teachers, technology
coaches, and instructional designers with innovative ways to integrate relevant
twenty-first century technology with sound pedagogical practice. The program is
designed for educators in formal and informal learning environments who are
excited about the potential technology offers for increasing student learning and
want to extend their skills for implementing relevant technology-enhanced
activities in their own learning environments. In keeping with USFs mission, the
students enrolled in the DTTL program would design, implement, and facilitate
the Makerspace Collaborative as a part of their masters coursework.
III. Project Rationale
1. Embracing Making as a New Learning Landscape
Fundamental shifts over the last decade have broadly changed the educational
landscape. Making, tinkering, and engineering are ways of knowing that should
be visible in all learning environments. In a makerspace, these processes may be
defined loosely:

Making is about the active role construction plays in learning. The maker
has a product in mind when working with tools and materials.

Tinkering is a mindset a playful way to approach and solve problems

through direct experience, experimentation, and discovery.
Engineering extracts principles form direct experience. It builds a bridge
between intuition and the formal aspects of science by being able to better
explain, measure, and predict the world around is.

The rise of the Maker Movement has popularized the idea that people possess
the potential to become makers, not just consumers. Making is about the act of
creation with new and familiar materials. Making something is a powerful,
personal expression of intellect. It creates ownership even when what you make
isnt perfect (Libow-Martinez & Stager, 2013). Researchers have identified The
IKEA Effect in which people who make things value their creations, even flawed
creations, more than the same things created perfectly by experts (Norton,
Mochon, & Ariely, 2011). This personal connection allows makerspace
environments to be sites of authentic learning where students can make direct
real-life connections to their creations.
2. Makerspace Tinkering to Address Inequities in Computer Science and
STEM Education
Major American technology companies have recently come under scrutiny for
their lack of employee diversity, a problem plaguing STEM and computing fields
more generally (National Science Foundation 2012; Constine, 2014). The
educational pipeline supporting entry into these jobs reflects similar trends; few
females, Latino/as, African Americans, and Native Americans pursue high school
Advanced Placement Computer Science or computing bachelors, masters, and
doctoral degrees (Yettick, 2014; Zweben & Bizot, 2014). This
underrepresentation is not due to lack of interest. Research demonstrates that,
based on race, gender, and socioeconomic class, students have unequal access
to quality curricula and pedagogy that engage youth in robust computational
thinking practices (Margolis, Estrella, Goode, Jellison-Holme, & Nao, 2008;
Barron 2004; Warschauer 2000, 2003). Addressing this problem is imperative for
ensuring that all students can fully participate in civic life and career pathways.
STEM-rich tinkering has been identified as a means to address these types of
educational inequities (Honey & Kanter, 2013; Martinez & Stager, 2013;
Vossoughi, Escude, Kong & Hooper, 2013). Tinkering is a playful, collaborative,
and problem-solving approach to STEM-rich learning that places a low barrier of
entry for people to engage in STEM phenomena and modes of inquiry (Peppler &
Kafia, 2007l Petruch, Wilkinson & Bevan, 2012). Furthermore, tinkering-based
learning connects students everyday interests and experiences from in-school
and out-of-school environments, serving as an important means for making
academic ideas and practices more accessible to diverse youth (Resnick &
Rosenbaum, 2013; Blikstein, 2013; Martin & Dixon, 2013). Tinkering activities
and accompanying pedagogical strategies allow students to use a wide variety of
complex ideas and materials to achieve imaginative solutions that can
incorporate diverse ways of knowing (Vossoughi & Bevan, 2014).

3. Making the Case with Constructivism: Learning Theories Supported by

Constructivism is a well-established theory of learning indicating that people
actively construct new knowledge by combining their experience with what they
already know (Libow-Martinez & Stager, 2013). Constructivism suggests that
knowledge is not delivered to the learner, but constructed inside the learners
head. New knowledge results from the process of making sense of new
situations by reconciling new experiences or information with what the learner
already knows or has experienced. This profoundly personal process underlies
all learning.
Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget have made vast contributions to constructivist
theory. Based on their work, the elements of constructivist teaching and learning
environments include:

Articulation of prior knowledge and preconceptions

New schema constructed by students
Hands-on, experiential learning
Inquiry and investigation; play
Cooperative learning
Teacher as facilitator
Authentic learning environments
Authentic, performance-based assessment

These same elements are required in the design and implementation of

makerspaces in order for them to be environments for rich learning to occur.
Makerspaces in education can thus be considered modern constructivist learning
3.1. Jean Piaget and the Principles of Constructivism
If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention
that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society. (Piaget)
Swiss psychologist and epistemologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) advanced the
idea of genetic epistemology in To Understand is to Invent, which advocated the
used of active methods which give broad scope to the spontaneous research
of the child or adolescent and requires that every new truth to be learned, be
rediscovered, or at least reconstructed by the student and not simply imported to
him (Piaget, 1976). This theory of learning came to be known later as
constructivism. The learner constructs knowledge inside their head based on
experience. Knowledge does not result from receipt of information transmitted by
someone else without the learner undergoing an internal process of sense
making. Piagets work outlines the following principles of constructivism:

Learning and knowledge are constructed by individuals.

Learning is a process of building new understanding from prior knowledge.
Learning is hands-on, experiential, occurs within authentic contents, and
involve communities of students working together.
Stresses the importance of play in individuals learning, which
incorporates role playing, pretend, practice, and rehearsal.

Learning by making, tinkering, and engineering is consistent with Piagetian

theories. Students who are thus repeatedly poor in mathematics show an
entirely different attitude when the problem comes from a concrete situation and
is related to other interests (Piaget, 1976). In the following passage, he rejects
the popular notion that some or most students are not good at math, but the
larger point refers to learning in any discipline:
Every normal student is capable of good mathematical reasoning if
attention is directed to activities of his interest, and if by this method the
emotional inhibitions that too often give him a feeling of inferiority in
lessons in this area are removed. In most mathematical lessons the whole
difference lies in the fact that the student is asked to accept from outside
an already entirely organized intellectual discipline which he may or may
not understand. (Piaget, 1976)
Piaget reminds teachers not to present students with pre-organized vocabulary
and concepts, but rather, like a makerspace, provide students with a learning
environment grounded in action:
Abstraction is only a sort of trickery and deflection of the mind if it doesnt
constitute the crowing stage of a series of previously concrete actions.
The real cause of failure in formal education is therefore essentially the
fact that one begins with language instead of beginning with real and
material action. (Piaget, 1976)
3.2. Lev Vygotsky and Social Constructivism
In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily
behavior. In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. (Vygotsky)
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) emphasized the importance of
social interactions in the formation of higher mental functions. These social
interactions take place with the More Knowledgeable Others (MKO) (Lake,
2012). Vygotskys work laid the foundational framework for the principles of social

Extends constructivism into social settings.


Groups construct knowledge.

Knowledge and skills are passed from experts to novices within
apprenticeship learning environments.
Discourse is critically important in developing shared understanding within
a community.

In a makerspace, the learners peers and the facilitator would take on the role of
MKO (Lake, 2012). The space itself is a social learning setting in which the group
constructs knowledge. Some makerspace facilitators will institute a system where
students are required to ask a buddy any questions they might run into before
asking the facilitator for assistance, thus reinforcing a scaffolding model (Grand
Center for Arts Academy, St. Louis, MO).
3.3. Seymour Papert and Constructionism
Seymour Papert elaborated further on constructivist theories to define
From constructivist theories of psychology, we take a view of learning as a
reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we
extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most
effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a
meaningful product. (Papert, 1986)
Paperts constructionism takes constructivist theory a step further towards action.
Although the learning happens inside of the learners head, this happens most
reliably when the learner is engaged in a personally meaningful activity outside of
their head that makes the learning real and shareable. This shareable
construction may take the form of a robot, musical composition, website, etc. The
principles of constructionism most directly align with the educational mission of

Learning occurs when students construct some type of artifact that they
can reflect on and share with others.
Students learn by doing and making in public.
The collaborative process includes getting feedback from peers, not just
from teachers.

IV. Project Design

1. Vision
Participating K-12 students will have access to a makerspace at USF where they
can work together with their peers and USF educators and graduate students in
developing STEM familiarity and competency through after-school 2-week
Introductory (Level 1) courses and 2-4 week Advanced (Level 2+) courses.

These courses will include coding, robotics, 3D CAD design/printing, and

making/design thinking.

2. Mission
At least 500 K-12 grade students engage in Introductory (Level 1) courses in
coding, robotics, 3D CAD design and printing, and making/design thinking per
year. Engage at least 100 students per year in Advanced (Level 2+) STEM

3. Implementation
The Makerspace after-school programs will run in approximately 8 week cycles,
beginning with an open house, followed by 2 week courses in making/design
thinking, coding, robotics, and 3D CAD design/printing. The cycle will conclude
with a celebration/reflection the following week. Instruction for courses will come

Coding, Tynker, Kodable, Turtle Art

Robotics Lego WeDo, Lego Mindstorms, Thymio
3D CAD Design/Printing Tinkercad, Autodesk
Making/Design Thinking Institute of Design at Stanford, Make Education
Initiative, RAFT, FabLab@School

4. Student Assessment
Students who complete all three Introductory courses will earn a badge that will
connect with the Advanced badges R(obotics), M(aking), C(oding),
3D(design/printing). Advanced badges do not need to be earned consecutively or
in a particular order.

5. Cycle

Open House

Making/Design Thinking Level 1 course

Coding Level 1 course

Robotics Level 1 course

3D Design/Printing Level 1 course


Move on to Level 2 courses followed by Celebration/Reflection

V. Project Timeline

2015-2016: Build makerspace at USF and create pilot introductory and

extended STEM opportunities at one site, supporting participating
students at that site.

2016-2017: Implement full introductory and extended STEM opportunities

at first site. If there is demand, proceed with plans to build makerspaces
and pilot introductory and extended STEM opportunities at two other
school sites in the community.

VI. Project Budget

We are seeking funding for either a Basic Kid Makserspace or a Bigger Kid
Makerspace as outlined by Make Magazine below (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Proposed budget for Basic Kid Makerspace and Bigger Kid Makerspace.

VII. Proposed Project

1. Broader Impacts
The field of education struggles to support and maintain the engagement of
diverse students in STEM and computing disciplines. This proposal is a creative
response to this challenge at the University of San Francisco. It addresses the
need to train educators in engaging youth with STEM and computing practices
while leveraging research on how to design for more equitable learning
opportunities for all. Makerspace tinkering provides students with multiple entry
points into STEM and computing practices while creating room for students to
bring diverse ways of knowing and everyday practices into their projects and

In addition, USF educators and graduate students will gain new ways of seeing
student engagement with computational thinking through makerspace tinkering
pedagogy. These teaching practices place students interests at the center of
problem posing, the cornerstone of teaching computational thinking identified by
the National Research Council (2011). The outcomes of this project provide
important perspective regarding educators role supporting non-dominant and
diverse learners access to academic learning with connections to non-academic
contexts through afterschool programs. Furthermore, a new community of
learners will be establishes among the network of educators and graduate
students participating in this project. This professional community will support
continued growth and expansion of professional development across formal and
informal contexts.
VII. Conclusion
Business leaders, politicians, and futurists all agree that creativity and STEMbased making are top priorities for todays young people. President Barack
Obama addressed the important of makerspace learning in a 2013 speech at the
White House:
I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people
in science and engineering, whether its science festivals, robotics
competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and
inventto be makers of things, not just consumers of things (President
Barack Obama, White House Hangout: The Maker Movement, 2013).
These creative ways for engaging young people are comprised of project-based,
problem-based, and inquiry learning. Studies comparing learning outcomes for
students taught via project-based learning vs. traditional instruction show that
wen implemented well, project-based learning increases long-term retention of
content, helps students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in
high-stakes tests, improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and
improves students attitudes towards learning (Vega, 2012). Edutopia PBL
Research. Project-based learning and inquiry-based strategies have been shown
to raise student science and math achievement. (Gordon, Rogers, Comfort,
Gavula, & McGee, 2001; Schneider, Krajcik, Marx, & Soloway, 2002). A study
following elementary school teachers who were learning how to integrate design
and project-based learning into math and science found significant results:
Their students became active learners and problem solvers. Indeed, their
critical thinking skills, as evidenced by their ability to pose problems, seek
answers, and test solutions, expanded and extended to other curriculum
units. Their confidence increased, as they had to take responsibility for
their own learning, becoming capable of researching, and finding answers
to questions they posed for themselves. The questions became more
complex and interrelated. No longer were curriculum areas isolated;
mathematics, reading, writing, and science are connected through design.

One of the most significant results from units centered on design is the
benefit it has for inclusion students or students with special needs. All of
the teachers who found that their inclusion students benefitted from the
experience, in ways they has not from traditional classroom learning
activities, realized that the design process enfranchises a variety of
learning styles, from the traditional academic instruction to the creative
and eclectic. (Koch & Burchardt, 2002)
Makerspaces offer rich potential to change the ways in which we inspire learning
in our students today and change the way learners learn.