The purpose of this workshop was to explore the "Invent to Learn" approach to teaching and learning developed by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager. The approach combines the tenets of constructivism and the maker movement to create lessons in which students learn through direct experience. The movement is primarily used in STEM subjects; however, the overarching theory could be applied to other subjects with some creative thinking. I chose to attend this workshop because it focused on how technology could be used purposefully in the classroom to solve real-world problems. As an arts teacher, I hoped it would inspire ideas for how I could leverage composition, performance, and other musical activities in similar ways.
After initial introductions, the presenter gave us a brief overview the book and the tenets of the maker movement espoused by the authors. She then led us through four lessons, having us role-play as students in order to experience the learning process ourselves. The four lessons covered robotics, civil engineering, biomechanics, and ecology respectively; and all four were geared primarily towards middle- and high school-aged students. Before each activity began, the presenter shared what prior knowledge and skills the students would need to be successful, and also the targets of assessment for each task. Rubrics were provided before the task and images or videos of prior student work was shared after the task for reflection and discussion.
During the robotics lesson, we were first taught as a full class how to operate three mechanical devices (an electric switch, lightweight pulley system, and rotating gears). We then formed small groups and were given a box full of raw materials including wheels, metal sheets that snapped together, swivel arms, and various clamps. The task was to include all three devices somehow into a robot that we would build using the raw materials. The end product had to serve one of three purposes provided by the teacher. We had 20 minutes to complete the task and then share our robot with the group. While we worked, the presenter-as-teacher would observe each group and guide our inquiry with questions, assist with construction, and address any issues that arose. I found this activity delightful and enjoyed collaborating with my group. It reminded me of erector sets and Lego projects I worked on as a child, and sparked that joy of creativity and problem-solving that came with engineering-based play. I feel that we were given adequate preparation for success and just enough structure to get us started before our imaginations were allowed to carry us forward. It many ways, it reminded me of composition units that I experienced in college music classes, and the lesson inspired several ideas for future music-related activities.
The next lesson on civil engineering required that we solve one of three real-world problems using straightforward equations and small-scale models. The teacher briefed us on the math and demonstrated how each model worked and could be manipulated. In different small groups, we then had to choose which problem we would solve and demonstrate how the equation and model addressed it. We had just 10 minutes for this task, but all groups were able to do it successfully. Of the four activities, this one felt the least maker-based, as we didn't actually create any artifacts; however, the real-world applications were engaging. Feeling and discussing replicas of crumbling bridges, weak building foundations, and poorly designed highway exchanges really got us thinking about practical applications of algebra and trigonometry. I appreciated the relevant context each problem represented.
Next we moved on to biomechanics, which was essentially a lesson on prosthetics. Within reasonable parameters, we had to 3-D print a small component of a prosthetic device that would address a challenge described in a case study. For example, our group's case study involved a user with a prosthetic index finger who needed additional range of motion in the two bendable joints of the finger (we learned, distal interphalangeal and metacarpophalangeal). We watched a brief video on the device and were then shown three 3-D blueprints of components that might address the issue, each with pros and cons. Based on the dossier, we had to select one to print, attach it to the model provided, and then demonstrate it to the class while explaining how our choice best addressed the issue. Like the second lesson, this wasn't didn't involve as much manual construction as the first lesson; however, it required reasoning skills and prompted discussions of bioethics in our group. Overall, it was another fascinating look at how having students create objects in real-time can be an effective, engaging vehicle to teach a host of topics.
The final lesson on ecology involved the entire class being presented with a water treatment issue from the imaginary nearby town. This was a time-sensitive problem as it affected the town's main water source; therefore, each group was given only five minutes to perform their part of the task. One group played the role of engineers and had to select one set of design schematics from several options (each with unique advantages and costs) to another group who would ultimately fabricate the solution. After handing off the design, the builders could fabricate or 3-D print the design, making any changes they saw fit as long as it was completed within the timeframe. They then handed it off to the testers who were tasked to recommend one meaningful change back to the design team. The product then went back to the first group who could approve, revise, or reject the proposed changes. The builders would then implement any changes per the revised spec, and finally the fourth group had to present the model to the class, demonstrate how it worked, and describe how it solved the problem. Ultimately as a class we were not successful - we took too long and the water supply was contaminated! I enjoyed the timing aspect of this - it reminds of a "get the product to market!" scenario. Students were encouraged to fail quickly in the first trial run, but it was clear that our revisions had to be the correct solution. Throughout the project, some team members were volunteering to move across teams in an effort to get it done on time and it was great fun. I could envision this project being done in a setup where a group consists of four students, each who is responsible for one of the roles (engineer, builder, tester, presenter). This might help develop students' skills in weaker areas or leverage skills they have to be most successful in the work.
Overall, the workshop was a lot of fun and I can understand how a maker-based lesson could be highly engaging for a range of students. Experiencing the lessons with your tactile and kinesthetic senses was invigorating and elicited creativity, imagination, critical thinking, and inquiry all in one lesson. In addition, we had to collaborate and negotiate with team members, exercising those important soft skills. Although I need more time to consider how to adapt this approach to the music classroom, I sense that it's possible and I look forward to exploring it further.