Invent To Learn

book by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez ISBN:0989151107

Aimed more at teachers, and awesome for them. But still good to help parents with Raising Reality Hackers.


Through the mid-1980s, learning to play the piano, make puppets out of Pop-Tarts boxes, create handmade math manipulatives, and teach physical education were requirements of those qualifying to become elementary school teachers.

The past few decades have been a dark time in many schools. Emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing,

Fortunately, there’s a technological and creative revolution underway that may change everything.

Amazing new tools, materials, and skills turn us all into makers.

While school traditionally separates art and science, theory, and practice, such divisions are artificial.

The sorts of projects made possible by these materials may make readers nostalgic for what primary education used to be and reinvigorate project-based learning.

Making is a way of bringing engineering to young learners.

in the Victorian era, the same people who wrote poetry also built bridges.

Tinkering is a powerful form of learning by doing, an ethos shared by the rapidly expanding maker community and many educators. It celebrates the best of what it means to be human.

When the same hardware and process skills are required in the physics lab as the art studio as the auto shop, schools need to no longer sort students into imaginary tracks for jobs that no longer follow those arbitrary rules.

children should engage in tinkering and making because they are powerful ways to learn.

We will also use the term “Maker Space” as a generic term throughout the book. We are not advocating a certain kind of space that is separate from where your students meet right now.

Chapter 1 – An Insanely Brief and Incomplete History of Making

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452–1519) was the quintessential Renaissance man.

Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) made waves when he published Emîle, or On Education,

Johann Pestalozzi (1746–1827) was inspired by Rousseau and believed that learning was natural and resulted from a balance between heart, head, and hand.

Pestalozzi was a huge influence on one of his students, Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852), who built upon Pestalozzi’s ideas in the design of kindergarten,

Italian medical doctor, Maria Montessori (1870–1952), embraced many of Froebel’s ideas, notably the deliberate use of materials for learning specific concepts in creating her approach to educating poor preschoolers.

Swiss psychologist and epistemologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980) formalized and confirmed many of the ideas of John Dewey, Montessori, Froebel, and Pestalozzi with his theories of constructivism and stage development.

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.

battle between instructionism and Constructionism.

John Dewey (1859–1952) rejected the mechanistic ideals and highly regimented Factory Schooling that resulted from the industrial revolution.

In Dewey’s view, education should prepare children to solve problems in a methodical fashion resulting from careful observation and previous experience.

Gilbert touted the Erector as a “real engineering” toy and created the “Gilbert Institute of Erector Engineering.” (Erector Set)

All of these toys could be used to construct fanciful models of things, but not the things themselves.

In the late 1950s, The Tech Modern Railroad Club (TMRC) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was filled with makers who, according to journalist Steven Levy, became self-proclaimed “HackEr-s.”

Quickly a “HackerEthic” emerged that challenged seemingly arbitrary rules and artificially scarce computing resources.

What an individual can learn, and how he learns it, depends on what models he has available.

Papert takes great pains to declare that one particular experience, no matter how rich, might not have the same effect on other learners.

In 1968, Papert’s interest in learning, mathematics, and computing led to the invention of the Logo programming language

The computer is the Proteus of machines. Its essence is its universality, its power to simulate. Because it can take on a thousand forms and can serve a thousand functions, it can appeal to a thousand tastes. (Papert, 1980)

In a stunning 1971 paper, Twenty Things to Do with a Computer, Seymour Papert and Logo co-creator Cynthia Solomon proposed educative computer-based projects for kids.

they didn’t have the infrastructure to be able to implement it.

Papert developed the theory of constructionism and wrote three profound books about learning with computers, Mindstorms, The Children's Machine, and The Connected Family....

During Papert’s last institutional research project he created an alternative learning environment entirely designed to support constructionism inside a prison for teens.

For a brief period during the 1960s and ‘70s, progressive education reemerged in the United States and other industrialized economies. The Sputnik crisis spurred investment in hands-on science

In the early 1960s, the Italian city of Reggio Emilia decided to rebuild its community still ravaged by World War II by investing heavily in the education of its very youngest citizens.

There may be no more consistent model of learning through making, tinkering, and engineering than found in the work of our Italian colleagues.

In 1985, Nicholas Negroponte, along with Jerome Wiesner, Seymour Papert, and Marvin Minsky, created the MIT MediaLab.

The Media Lab embraced Polymath-s and became a grand center for tinkering across the lines of traditional disciplines.

The Maker family tree has a deep set of roots at MIT and another in Silicon Valley.

In his 2005 book, Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop – from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld described the next technological revolution

Gershenfeld’s MIT course, “How to Make Almost Anything,” became enormously popular among students across a wide spectrum of academic disciplines.

Students will learn, they will invent, they will teach, they will collaborate, and they will share knowledge when it best suits their needs, interests, and style.

In 2008, Paulo Blikstein of Stanford University started working with K–12 schools to create digital fabrication labs called the Fab Lab@Schools project.

The quarterly magazine Make is the Gutenberg Bible of the burgeoning “maker” community. Dale Dougherty (MakeMag’s founder and publisher) and Mark Frauenfelder (editor-in-chief) first noticed the growing energy and participation at the intersection of craft, engineering, computer science, and whimsy.

Arduino variants like the “Lily Pad” expand the student toolbox to e-textiles – computers you can wear.

There is a growing body of literature to inspire a teacher or parent interested in making with children.

Online communities are the new guilds, where access to expertise, mentors, and affinity groups are a mouse click away.

The maker community is bringing time-honored forms of craft and handiwork back into the lives of children.

In 1988, Seymour Papert wrote about the computer as material with which you can make things and other powerful ideas. Nearly a decade earlier, Papert described the computer as mud pie. At last, this vision of computing being as handy as a pencil or paper mâché is becoming a reality.

many “low-tech” innovations to spice up hands-on learning.

new materials lets children build actual things, not just models

The growing list of creative technology accessible to children represents the closest realization of the goal of empowering the human in this cybernetic relationship. Beyond fluency, personal fabrication, programming, and physical computing shift the emphasis from passive consumption to active creation and invention.

Kid makers possess a skill set and self-efficacy (agency) that will serve them well in school, as long as they are engaged in interesting activities worthy of their capacity for intensity.

the materials that enable them are inconsistent with the imaginations of children or with the types of learning experiences society has long valued. Making is a stance that puts the learner at the center of the educational process and creates opportunities that students may never have encountered themselves.

Chapter 2 – Learning

Constructivism and Constructionism

Constructivism suggests that knowledge is not delivered to the learner, but constructed inside the learner’s head.

Learning is often socially constructed. Talking and working with others is one of the best ways to cement new knowledge.

We believe that “Constructionism,” a similar-sounding term coined by Seymour Papert, is the learning theory that most strongly resonates within the maker movement

Papert’s constructionism takes constructivist theory a step further towards action. Although the learning happens inside the learner’s 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.

Making, Tinkering, and Engineering

Making – Messing About With Transformative Materials

maker movement also embraces the ability to share not only the products, but the joyful process of making with videos, blogs, and pictures.

In their paper Computer as Material: Messing About with Time, Papert and Franz write: We mention one other closely related point of interest. The phrase “messing about” in our title is, of course, taken from a well-known paper by DavidHawkins. (Hawkins, 1965) Marvelously entitled “Messing About in Science,”

The act of messing about, which we might call tinkering, is where the learning happens. The computer provides a flexible material that the child can weave into their own ideas and master for their own purposes.

Tinkering – A Mindset For Learning Tinkering is a uniquely human activity, combining social and creative forces that encompass play and learning.

her book The Second Self, Sherry Turkle describes tinkering as an alternate, but equally valuable approach to science, calling it “soft mastery” in contrast to the “hard mastery” of linear, step-by-step problem solving, flowcharting, and analytical approaches.

The point is not that tinkering is good for one type of student and not others. Tinkering is not what you do with the students who “can’t do regular work” or just something to make girls feel comfortable. Adopting a tinkering mindset in your classroom allows all students to learn in their own style.

Tinkering as Play

Edith Ackermann, a colleague of both Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, has spent her career investigating the intersections of learning, teaching, design, and digital technologies. She says that play and design are similar:

Engineering as Inventing

The origin of the word “EnginEer” is a maker of an “engine,” which is from the Latin word ingenium, meaning a clever invention. Engineering is the application of scientific principles to design, build, and invent.

Creators are fabricators of possibilities embodied: They both make and make-up things!

It seems that to many people, tinkering connotes a messiness and unprofessionalism that doesn’t apply to “real” jobs in scientific fields. I believe just the opposite is true – tinkering is exactly how real science and engineering are done.

My flash of insight, 20 years later, is that perhaps we should avoid squeezing all serendipity out of STEM subjects in a quest to teach students about a “real world” that exists only in the feeble imagination of textbook publishers. Tinkering is the way that real science happens in all its messy glory.

Chapter 3 – Thinking About Thinking

Making is a way of documenting the thinking of a learner in a shareable artifact. Stages of a project “under construction” offer important evidence of productive thinking or scaffolding opportunities.

learning as a transfer of thinking patterns does not work.

Nowhere in school is this attempt to transfer thinking patterns more evident than in science and math classes, the S and M of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

Alan Kay laments that much of what schools teach isn’t science at all, it’s science appreciation.

Sure, scientists make plans. They also follow hunches, iterate, make mistakes, re-think, start over, argue, sleep on it, collaborate, and have a cup of tea. Tinkering encourages making connections, whereas school tends to favor “clean” disconnected problems with clear, unambiguous step-by-step solutions.

Taking the computer out of Computational Thinking or production out of Design leaves the students with an impoverished view of 21st century skills.

Whether teaching writing, video production, or brainstorming a useful invention, it seems most efficient to provide students with step-by-step assistance, tools, and tricks to organize their thoughts and get to a finished product as quickly as possible. This well-intentioned support may in fact have the effect of stifling creativity and forcing students to create products that simply mirror the checklist they have been given.

Design Models From the Real World

When the risk of making a mistake is costly, it makes sense to use the WaterFall method. However, if the risks of making a mistake are not expensive or dangerous, then it makes sense to explore different design methodologies.

In the world of digital products, like software, apps, and websites, this design philosophy can go a step further. You can tinker even as you build,

These modern, tinkering-friendly design models are known by various names including “rapid prototyping,” “spiral design,” “iterative design,” and “agile development.”

Tinkering-Friendly Design Models

Design Models for Learning

it matches the inclination of children to do something quickly rather than spend a lot of time planning.

As students go through multiple design cycles, they develop a better understanding of the requirements, tools, and materials as they make tradeoffs and try to improve their prototype.

What we fear with imposed design cycle diagrams and checklists is that children will see any set of steps as prescriptive, and as much as we tell them that it doesn’t have to be done exactly like this, they will worry that they aren’t “doing it right.”

What the World Really Needs Is Another Design Model

Despite an abundance of options for describing what industry might call workflow, making, tinkering, and engineering in a classroom setting is different.

That is why curricular planning schemes like “backward design” are problematic. They assume that maximum educational value is achieved when every student gets to a goal preordained by the teacher, even if multiple paths are paved.

Design models for school also tend to use stages that offer the teacher ready-made objects to be assessed, rather than give students agency.

Polya may have been most elegant in reducing the problem-solving process to four steps. TMI has only three – Think, Make, Improve.

“I’m done” are two words you should never hear in the maker classroom!

Integrating the Arts

There have been recent efforts to produce STEAM by adding the Arts to STEM.

Why is it assumed that STEM subjects are devoid of the creative disposition of artists?

Children deserve rich experiences across the widest range of disciplines available. The good news is that in the maker community, artistic projects and craftsmanship are highly valued. Music composition is often required in programming a computer game or making your robot dance. Oral presentation skills are necessary for pitching your invention or in narrating your film. Artistic skills, creativity, and curiosity are in high-demand by any project, no matter how technical.

Our focus needs to be on dismantling the artificial boundaries between subject areas erected in the late 19th century.

The Role of Powerful Ideas

in Changing Education

Chapter 4 – What Makes a Good Project?

There are several names for this kind of classroom experience. Project Based Learning may be the most common, but there are variants known as problem-based learning, inquiry learning, and others.

When we talk about a “ProJect,” what we mean is work that is substantial, shareable, and personally Meaningful.

Inquiry begins with what students want to know and the things they wonder about.

The Eight Elements of a Good Project

Questions Worth Asking

Is the problem solvable? The brilliant educators of Reggio Emilia, Italy, teach us that a well-designed, open-ended, learner-definable prompt is the best starting place for project-based learning.

While overly ambitious engineering problems may lead to new insights or recognition of complexity, solving social or political dilemmas are harder to debug and provide fewer opportunities for model building.

Is the project monumental or substantial?

Why Computers and Digital Technology?

What’s a Good Prompt?

Skew Your View

Turn a prompt upside down or look at it from a new perspective.

Planning Projects

If your students want to create a television show, be a chemist, or animate their stories, you either have to have the know-how (and equipment), find out how, or get someone to help you. It is unacceptable and unnecessary to deny children the opportunity to work on something they are passionate about because the teacher is not an expert in that particular field.

Raising Our Standards – Student Work That Endures

The value of student projects at all levels needs to be demonstrably obvious even to the most casual observer.

Teachers should embrace the aesthetic of an artist or critic and create opportunities for project development that strive to satisfy the following criteria. Ask if the project is: Beautiful Thoughtful Personally meaningful Sophisticated Shareable with a respect for the audience Moving Enduring

Making Memories

The former student wants to reminisce. She enthusiastically begins a sentence, “Remember that time we...” The rest of the sentence is never “crammed for the standardized test,”

The student’s reminiscence always concludes with a description of a project created in your classroom.

Chapter 5 – Teaching

Education policy often confuses teaching and learning.

A Teaching Mantra: Less Us, More Them

Anytime an adult feels it necessary to intervene in an educational transaction, they should take a deep breath and ask, “Is there some way I can do less and grant more authority, responsibility, or agency to the learner?”

To start making your classroom more student-centered, demonstrate a concept and then ask students to do something.

Fetishizing Failure

The current failure fetish is more sloganeering than progress. It confuses iteration with failure, when in fact any iterative design cycle is about continuous improvement, keeping what works, and dealing with what doesn’t. This is learning, not failure.

When the student is given agency over the task, they can decide for themselves if something is a mistake, a detour, or maybe a new path.

Instruction causes students to narrow the scope of exploration. Children given a toy and shown how to use it will “learn” how the toy works, but will not explore beyond what they are shown.

Wise teachers know when to dispense the smallest dose of information possible to ensure forward progress.

Doing Constructionism

Constructionism is a theory of teaching. We believe that constructionism is the best way to implement constructivist learning.

Constructionists believe that learning results from experience and that understanding is constructed inside the head of the student, often in a social context. Constructionist teachers look for ways to create experiences for students that value the student’s existing knowledge and have the potential to expose the student to big ideas and “aha” moments.

Lessons From the Constructionist Learning Lab

inside of Maine’s troubled prison for teens, The Maine Youth Center.

Jaymes Dec is a teacher and Innovation Specialist at the Marymount School of New York. He has taught digital design and fabrication classes in kindergarten through graduate school since 2007. That makes Jaymes the closest thing to an old pro in the exciting new world of school makerspaces. Jaymes calls his maker approach to teaching “applied constructionism.”

Playing the Whole Game

When teaching baseball to children, adults or older peers will often help children play a version of baseball, but something that is recognizable to all as baseball. The difference is that it includes crucial accommodations for younger players.

Translating this idea into the classroom requires teachers to figure out what an equivalent version of the whole game is for math, science, history, or any other aspect of the curriculum. What Perkins recommends is consistent with this book: an emphasis on real-world, hands-on, cross-curricular work, giving student agency, and most of all, time – time for reflection, editing, and working on projects that matter.

Talking should not be the primary work of teachers – learning about their students should be. A teacher who is mindful and involved with student work without being the center of attention can teach without lecturing.

Teaching Using Iterative Design Cycles

It’s the teacher’s responsibility to ensure these stages occur naturally. Don’t add unnecessary vocabulary or imposed structure to the cognitive workload of students.

Allow sufficient time for meaningful experiences. Encourage students to get totally involved in ideas.

Don’t Overteach Planning

The lessons of tinkering and making occur in the construction, not the planning.

The goal of outlining, sketching, flowcharting, and other forms of planning is to help a person get unstuck. If a student is already clear or confident in their direction, forcing formulaic planning may be counterproductive and unpleasant.

If your curriculum requires lab notebooks, outlining, visual organizers, journaling, and similar techniques, try to maintain perspective on their relative importance. These techniques are intended to help some styles of learners at certain times solve particular problems. They should neither be viewed as a silver bullet or as a straightjacket imposed on students.

Encouraging Continuous Improvement

Encourage students who are frustrated or stuck to keep trying new strategies. Ask a student who is “done” what else they could add to their project, or how to make it more reliable, stable, useful, beautiful, valuable, or flexible.

Explaining your problem orally, online, or in other forms of written communication may bring a solution into focus.

Build time in your schedule for sharing and collaboration.


Talk about the design cycle after the students have had a chance to experience it and live with it.

Teaching Students to Face Complexity

My daily challenge in our Makers group is cajoling eighth graders to face Complexity honestly. It took me a few years of teaching to realize that kids would fake “a-ha!” moments for me in class, either to force some confirmation response from me or just to end the conversation. In Makers, these are vocalized as “I know what’s wrong!” and often enacted by a grab for the soldering iron. Because when you’re actively using tools, then you don’t have to acknowledge the problems in your thinking and the flaws in your design. Just do stuff for a while, and then if it doesn’t work, you can shrug it off as a good try. That mess of wire and PCB is just one of those “productive failures” Mr. Carle seems to love. Except it’s not. It’s a stall and a con.

Mouth Up, Mouth Down Frustration

Teaching That Promotes


Affective qualities like Creativity, collaboration, passion, curiosity, perseverance (Grit), and teamwork are certainly desirable for teachers and students. However, these traits are developed while engaged in real pursuits, even within the existing curriculum. All that is required is a meaningful project.

Students learn creativity by being creative. They can develop self-esteem by engaging in satisfying work. Classroom management is not required when teachers don’t view themselves as managers. Students learn perseverance by working on projects that make them want to stick with them. Kids can learn “digital citizenship” while learning to program, sharing code, and interacting online.


Gary has been known to say, “Assessment always interrupts the learning process.” Even asking a child, “Hey, watcha doin?” is disruptive.

Grades and Rubrics

Making, tinkering, or engineering are inconsistent with typical school schedules. Quality work takes time, disobeys bell schedules, doesn’t result in neat projects that work with canned rubrics, and might not have any impact on test scores.

Many advocates of project-based learning are firm believers in rubrics as being a path to grading that is less likely to destroy student motivation.

However, there are reasons rubrics may be counterproductive:

Chapter 6 – Making Today

This might include one of the amazing high-tech inventions we’ll explore shortly, or it might take the form of costumes for a historical reenactment, homemade math manipulatives, a new curtain for the local auditorium, toys, a pet habitat, a messy science experiment, or a zillion other things.

Different students may demonstrate understanding and satisfy an assignment with a presentation, written paper, video, shoebox diorama, or deep-sea Yugoslavian folk dance. The tool(s) used are a whole lot less important than what is produced and the intellectual processes employed.

You Are Better Prepared Than You Think

There is no reason whatsoever why students should not be much better writers as a result of the word processing revolution. Their expression should not be limited to the five-paragraph essay

YouTube filmmaker Casey Neistat is turning the worlds of journalism, advertising, television, and Story Telling upside down with the cameras many of us have in our pockets.

Crayons and paint can and should co-exist with digital tools.

Imagine if students could create their own musical productions, not just perform in them. Today they can, allowing many more students to participate and expanding the range of opportunities for creativity.

Composition vs. Consumption

If I wrote a piece of music that was too difficult for my teacher to perform on the piano (which pretty much describes every piece of music composed by 15-year-olds), then the music went unheard.

Imagine a laptop orchestra where each student is a trombonist or cellist because that’s the instrument they tell their laptop to sound like when they play one note at a time on a $50 MIDI keyboard connected to their personal computer. (Electronic Music)

Using Familiar Materials to Learn in Unfamiliar Ways

One great new idea is SquishyCircuits – edible conductive and non-conductive dough that you mold just like regular modeling clay, but with one important difference. The conductive dough allows electricity to flow through it and the non-conductive dough is an insulator.

Best of all, recipes for Squishy Circuits dough may be found online and made with the kids at almost no cost. Need a fresh batch? The kids can whip some up for themselves and learn to follow a recipe!

Conductive Paint

Conductive paint and conductive foil allow you to create electrical circuits on paper.

The Hot New Material

an old favorite was staging a big comeback – Card Board!

Since your students may not have as much time as Caine to construct their cardboard masterpieces, there are some low-cost reusable products to help.

reusable plastic saws, hinges, and connectors for inventing with cardboard.

Rolo Box is a set of reusable wheels you can fasten to cardboard items that need to move.

Decisions, Decisions

A well-equipped modern makerspace

Find Allies, Advocates, and Mentors

Good Ideas Are Timeless, but It’s up to You

next technology revolution will provide kids with expanded opportunities to be mathematicians, engineers, computer scientists, game designers, and more. There is no reason for adults to choose. Kids should be invited to explore as many domains as possible. You are the key ingredient to making this happen.

Chapter 7 – The Game Changers

we believe there are three technologies that have the most potential to provide the kinds of learning experiences that change children’s views of themselves as competent learners.

Fabrication, Physical Computing, and Programming

Fabrication (Desktop Fab)

We are at the forefront of a revolution, where every part of the global economy will be disrupted. Manufacturing items in massive factories and then spending a fortune transporting those items to stores will be replaced by emailing a digital file to be printed close to the customer.

This is the perfect time for classrooms to explore the idea of personal fabrication.

The game-changing aspect of 3D printing extends beyond the ability to print something cool. The iterative tinkering process is employed while users continuously improve upon digital designs.

Learning is in the process of designing the objects, not in the perfection of the product.

3D Printer Primer

Filament Fundamentals

The 3D Printer Workflow

Step 1: Design: Ideas and Existing Designs

CAD (Design) → STL Files

Many designs for 3D printable objects start from a library of existing designs.

STL Files

Computer Aided Design (CAD) Programs

CAD programs called “solid modeling programs” are best for learning how to design 3D printable objects. SketchUp, Shapesmith, 3DTin, and Autodesk’s 123D are all free solid modeling programs suitable for classroom use.

The most common CAD program currently in use in K–12 classrooms for 3D printing design is SketchUp.

There is a huge library of digital objects for SketchUp created by people from around the globe, but many are not meant to be printed out in the real world.

If you want to use SketchUp as your CAD program, search the Internet and you will find websites that offer tutorials and design help for printable objects.

Other CAD Options

Step 2: Prepare for Print: STL → CAM (Slicing) → G-code

Step 3: Print: G-code → Software Printer Control Panel → 3D Object

Using an Iterative Design Cycle

Choosing Your Printer

Printer Considerations

3D Printer Projects

Project Ideas

Look for opportunities to add precision and measurement to the designs the students are working on. This doesn’t have to be “school math” – you don’t have to work hard to introduce dividing fractions into student work. In 3D printing, as in the real world, the result of miscalculation or misunderstanding the coordinate system is quite evident when you build an object that doesn’t work.

Students are often interested in ecology and may ask about the wisdom of making things that are going to just end up in a landfill. These and other interests are prime for further inquiry:

Avoiding the “Keychain Syndrome”

they would make endless versions of the same thing.

using the lab as a fabrication facility, rather than a place for invention.

This dilemma is amplified by typical school curriculum tendencies to emphasize product over process and to value pre-planned activities with no surprises.

Fabrication and Learning

when was the last time you taught a fourth grader to use a 3D printer?

It’s far too easy to tell a student, you’re no good at this, or, this is beyond you. But none of that is true. It’s the falsest falsity there is.

I told a mother today, “We give no grades in the Design Lab.” I think we dare not. Artists and architects and engineers, and for that matter, great writers like Hemingway and Tolkien and Austen learned their crafts and their artistry not from being graded — but from selfish, constant, almost obsessive trial and error.

Getting to Know Your Printer

Just like you hope students develop the confidence to jump in with both feet, so must teachers develop similar habits. The worst thing that can happen is waiting for the teacher to figure everything out perfectly ahead of time.

Printing Without a Printer

There are companies that offer 3D printing services right here and now.

Controversy With Fabrication Devices

Printing Guns and Other Dangerous Things

Intellectual Property

copyright, trademark, and patent. All of these are under challenge with fabrication technology.

The Future

A printer that is part of design process should allow maximum student agency.

There is every reason to suspect that as 3D printing becomes more widespread in schools, you will start to hear sales pitches for products “designed for learning.” Be wary of such claims.

Physical Computing

Physical computing is the game changer that allows kids to invent working machines.

Toys, parts of broken appliances, and other found materials enhance the DIY computers, robotics, whimsical interfaces, and microcontrollers that encompass physical computing.

A Truly Personal Computer

Since the 1960s, Seymour Papert was frustrated by the fact that kids could not make their own computer for a variety of practical and commercial reasons.

Raspberry Pi changes all of that and encourages computer programming.

“Raspberry” paid homage to the naming of computers after fruit, and “Pi” is an abbreviation of Python, a programming language they liked for beginners.

What Can It Do?

Best of all, the Raspberry Pi contains 17 General Purpose Input/Output ports (GPIO), in addition to pins providing power to connected electronics. The GPIO ports allow the Raspberry Pi to receive feedback from sensors or

Don’t Buy It Because It’s Cheap!

easily bring the cost of the $25 computer to over $100.


The original Lego robotics sets were programmed in a version of Logo.

Since the early 1990’s, LEGO has abandoned Logo as the language for programming its bricks and embraced Robo Lab [1], a version of the Lab View software used by scientists to control monitoring equipment.

In our opinion, the trend away from Logo-like languages and the addition of mysterious “black box” building elements leads to a narrower range of projects created by kids.

They should use robotics materials to support a spirit of kinetic sculpture, solving real problems, controlling experiments, puppetry, and anything else a kid can dream up.

LEGO currently offers two robotics sets, We Do and Nx T

We Do is intended for grades K–2, and augments traditional LEGO bricks, plus some gears and wheels,

LEGO’s MindStorms Nx T system, more expensive than We Do, is intended for upper elementary through high school and has become a staple of robotics competitions, such as the FIRST LEGO League.

By late 2013, LEGO will begin replacing the Nx T with the Mindstorms EV3 set.

We Do may be controlled by Scratch, and the Nx T elements may be programmed via Enchanting.

Arduino: The Future of Robotics

Think of the guts or brains of your programmable LEGO brick or personal computer without the nice plastic case, USB ports, drives, keyboard, mouse, or monitor and you’ll understand what a microcontroller is.

Many physical computing projects don’t really need a whole PC-like computer. They only need a little bit of processing power.

Building and programming robots with Arduino may be messier than using LEGO, but Arduino is infinitely more flexible and powerful. A whole new world of sensors, motors, lights, and peripherals can be made to obey.

Extensibility is a hallmark of Arduino.

This is often accomplished via “shields”

Prototyping and Messing About With Arduino

Arduino prototyping typically uses a breadboard connected with wires to the microcontroller.

How It Works

The software that runs on the Arduino computer is also open source.

All you really need to get started with Arduino is the microcontroller, a computer, the free IDE software, a USB cable to connect the Arduino, and your computer.

We strongly recommend purchasing one of the low-cost Arduino kits on the market. Less than $100 usually gets you a kit complete with an Arduino, breadboard, wire, and an assortment of motors, lights, switches, and sensors to support a wide range of projects.

Electronics Makes a Comeback

Getting To Know the Arduino

Programming the Arduino

Sketches are written in a version of the C programming language.

We highly recommend that you buy a copy of the book, Programming Arduino: Getting Started with Sketches by Simon Monk.

Mod Kit

Modkit, an iconic programming environment for controlling Arduino, Lily Pad, and a number of other popular microcontrollers. Modkit offers a snap-together interface familiar to anyone who has used the Scratch programming language.

Wearable Computing

Lilypad is a variation of Arduino, specially designed to be used in clothing and other textile objects.

In 2013, Adafruit Industries released Flora, the next generation in wearable computing construction materials. Flora is quite similar to Lilypad, but is smaller, has built-in USB, and can control up to 4,000 chainable LEDs and even a tiny GPS module.

Where to Start With Arduino

Arduino Project Collections

Other Physical Computing Options

Ma Key Ma Key

Fun With Electronics

Why Physical Computing for Learning?

A Bazillion Robotics Prompts


Despite a dystopian depiction of social isolation and inaccessibility in the popular culture, all children should enjoy computer science experiences. It is simply unacceptable to celebrate the occasional kid who makes a fortune programming an iPhone app when his classmates are relegated to keyboarding instruction.

Communicating a formal idea to the computer is also a powerful way to think about thinking.

Replacing computing fluency with Computer Literacy is like sacrificing orchestra for music appreciation.

The transparent use of computers across the curriculum is inseparable from the responsibility of teaching computer science K–12 to every child by every teacher. Maximum agency over the computer is critical for modern knowledge construction.

Programming Projects

Try to move away from the pre-planned tutorials as quickly as possible.

Students often focus on programming games or interactive stories, but also encourage students to find ways to solve simple problems using programming. Math problems, codebreaking, or art projects can also be good programming projects.

Programming in the Curriculum

Making, tinkering, and engineering can lead to greater understanding of traditional topics too.

Fractions are one of the things we teach kids over and over again, yet they don’t stay taught.

Look for opportunities to enhance even the most traditional school subjects in the spirit of making.

Choosing a Language

There are even programming languages appropriate for 5-year-olds. Like any written or spoken language, the permutations of a programing language are infinite.

Don’t assume that simple programming languages teach less or are only for younger students. Logo programming is an excellent example of “less is more.”

We recommend you choose one language and stick with it. Programming fluency is developed over time. Students will gain much more proficiency and confidence if they are able to grow with one language.

Therefore, we will just discuss a few of the most popular options in this chapter.


For over 40 years, a great deal of research has led to insights into how best to design a programming language capable of creating artifacts attractive to youngsters while leading them to explore powerful ideas in the process.

In 1986, Logo Writer added word processing to the programming environment and four customizable turtles to the system. This allowed students to tell digital stories complete with animation and create simple video games for the first time.

The late 1990s saw the arrival of free Logo versions designed for more specialized purposes like modeling and simulation, including the massively parallel StarLogo and Net Logo.

Then Logo development went in an entirely new direction with the creation of Scratch.

By design, Scratch is limited in functionality.

Logo Variations

Scratch also may be used to program LEGO’s early childhood robotics set called We Do. Plug the We Do into your computer, boot Scratch, and new blocks appear for robotics control.

The simplicity of Scratch also reduces the range of projects it makes possible. It is not as strong as MicroWorlds for teaching mathematics or for dealing with text. You may also grow tired of programming by clicking and dragging the mouse and having your projects confined to a small “stage.”

Scratch Variations

Other Programming Language Options




Other Programming Environments

Squeak Smalltalk

Computer Game Design Tools

Teaching Programming

Teachers With Little or No Experience With Computer Programming

Teachers Who Are Experienced Programmers

Supporting Student Learning

Chapter 8 – Stuff

Great teachers are highly skilled hoarders! Well-stocked classroom libraries, supplies, gadgets, technology, tools, toys, recycled materials and other assorted stuff within an arm’s reach of students are learning accelerants.

Basic Stocks

Computers, Software, and Cameras

Craft and Art Supplies

Building Materials and Traditional Tools

Junk for Recycling Into New Products


Purchasing/Acquiring Stuff

You (May) Only Live Once



Allocating Your Budget

Stocking Up

Chapter 9 – Shaping the Learning Environment

Your students need to believe that they can be inventors and creators.

It should come as no surprise if students are initially confused by the different expectations of a makerspace. Signal this change through visual and physical clues to help students understand that indeed, this is a space where their ideas are honored and the rules are different. If your makerspace is a shared space, or part of your classroom, the ritual of “opening” the makerspace signals this transition.

But it’s not enough to pull a few curious heads through the door. A maker-space needs to empower visitors and transform them into makers, not just provide specialized tools. Students should find something to touch and produce, something that provides a sense of accomplishment and reward on their timescale.

Help or Get out of the Way!

In case we have been too subtle, you should learn to program, solder, build a robot, or design a 3D object, especially if you expect children to.

Riding Up the Down Escalator

Irv’s Troubleshooting Tips — Sylvia ~ My father was a mechanic and tinkerer

If my brother or I came to him with a problem, he would always ask, “What have you done already?” and remind us of his primary rule: “Use all your senses.”

If none of those questions provided any clues, the second rule was “wiggle it.”

The final and most important rule was “Test drive it!”

Gender Friendly Spaces and Styles

Documentation serves multiple functions and many masters.

Documentation should be used to make private thinking public or invisible thinking visible.

Younger or reluctant students may document project progress by taking a digital photo, annotating it, and sticking it on a wall or blog.

Remember kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down. — Adam Savage, host of Myth Busters

Completing a simple to-do list at the start and finish of a making session may also be beneficial

The Technology Ecology

A funny thing happens when you make something, particularly something of a technological nature. You are inspired to learn something else.

Collaboration and Group Work

The purpose of working together is interdependence. Each member of the team gains benefit by working collaboratively. If there is no benefit to working together or if the collaboration is burdensome to the process, then why do it?

Students may need to collaborate in unpredictable ways for short periods of time. Students often engage in what education researcher Yasmin Kafai calls “collaborations through the air.”

Remember LUMT Remember the teaching mantra “Less Us, More Them”

Lending a helping hand with a circuit that has a tricky design is a good idea. Just try not to anticipate so far in advance that you end up giving them solutions that lead them down a single path to “success.”

Don’t be Bob

We realized that “Go get Bob” had become our crutch, creating huge gaps in what we knew as individuals and thus in what we could accomplish as a team.

Show and Tell?

We recommend against showing examples of completed projects for the following reasons:

Making Complexity Accessible

American kids use miles per hour. It is at this point that the fun and games usually come to a screeching halt and several years of torturous unit conversions commence.

Gary took a chance and opened his laptop’s browser to the computation engine,

We know that some readers might conclude that the use of Wolfram Alpha is cheating. 30%–40% of you are probably wearing eyeglasses. You cheaters!

Taking the Lab out of the Fab Lab

it would be a shame if the interdisciplinary power of making, tinkering, and invention were relegated to a specialized lab for occasional use.

placed the computers in a special bunker called the computer lab. Once there, a formal schedule and curriculum was invented based less on the power of the computer to transform learning opportunities and more on the logistical demands of dividing scarce resources evenly across too many students.

To more fully realize its potential, making should be the primary activity across the curriculum, not a field trip.

Maker Space on the Move

Creative Space Design and Making Do

If the library is an option, build on the existing advantages. Libraries are cross-curricular, multi-grade, and often have extended hours. All these are advantages for a makerspace.

Space Planning

Flexible doesn’t just mean that it can be used for multiple purposes, but that it can also be controlled by the people using the space.

Educators interested in designing productive learning environments need to have The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools by Prakash Nair and Randall Fielding in their library.

Safety and Security

Be careful that the safety rules don’t become curriculum. Rules are important and necessary, but they don’t make children safe – careful behavior does.

Project Storage

Sharing Parts and Tools

One way to manage this is to require some preparation or check-in before a student uses a popular tool.

Less Scheduling, More Making

If you must schedule classes in the makerspace, leave plenty of time for students to drop in to work on projects.

Run clubs during lunch, recess, and non-school hours to maximize use of your resources.

School IT

Setting Expectations

To achieve this goal, we need the cooperation of all participating students. We expect each student to follow these guidelines:

Inspiration From Maker Faires

Community Spaces

Depending on proximity and transportation issues, you may be able to hold class in a community makerspace.

Chapter 10 – Student Leadership

don’t underestimate the capability of younger students.

it is a given that you could do it better and faster. But that’s not the goal. The goal is for the students to learn.

Supporting Student Leadership

Expertise: Encourage students to be experts and share their expertise. Make “Three before me” the motto of your classroom, meaning a student should not ask you for help before they ask three of their classmates.

Management, logistics, and planning:

scheduling, and planning. Leadership roles: The jobs and roles you give students can be formal or informal.

Recruiting: Put as much of the recruitment and promotion duties for clubs and events

Teach mentoring explicitly: Students almost always feel that they learn best by doing, but when they become the teacher they tend to lecture. Remind your little lecturers that that’s not how people learn best.

Community service: There may be opportunities in your community for students to share their new expertise in summer camps, museum programs, or at a local hackerspace.

Engaged and Empowered

empowered students can be difficult to handle at times. Once students get a taste of what it feels like to be in charge of things, you will have to monitor them to make sure they aren’t making life miserable for other students.

Chapter 11 – Make Your Own Maker Day

Maker Day is not the same as a science fair.

The best way to communicate this message is to have plenty of quick projects that your Maker Day guests can participate in.


Here are some tips for planning and leading a successful Maker Day:

Less Us, More Them

Make (Nearly) Everything

Set the Tone

Decorate With Examples of Classroom Making


How Many, How Much?

Let the Kids Enjoy the Day


Show Off AND Teach

Start With a Bang

Make a Schedule

Have Plenty of Stuff to Do and Plenty of Stuff to Do With

Keep It Moving

While some attendees might spend hours at one station (and that is very cool), brevity is the key

Kick It Old School

Be sure to have an area where kids can sand, hammer, and nail wood pieces together resulting in either free-form sculptures or simple projects

Let Folks Touch the Future

Identify Experts

Ask parents who work in engineering, computing, construction, mechanics, or carpentry fields to share their expertise in hands-on activities.

Make What You Eat and Eat What You Make


Have local or school bands perform throughout the day.

Make a School Improvement


Cub Reporters

Wrap It Up

Maker Day Project Ideas

Chapter 12 – Making the Case

Convincing others, building consensus, and getting the funding are all valid concerns.

Build consensus in advance by sharing your ideas with the community.

You should not make the case for making, tinkering, or engineering based on achievement or higher test scores.

There are growing societal forces at work that can aid you in making the case. Business leaders, politicians, and futurists all agree that creativity and STEM-based making are top priorities for today’s young people.

Kid Power

Brian has opened the Studio before school, during lunch, and at recess for students to build with LEGO and PicoCrickets, take electronic and other devices apart, and free play with electronics and computers.

Brian has created an online site for students to share their creations and ideas.

Brian has chosen some projects to create incentives for students to iterate.

Teachers refer these students to him because they are identified with specific interests or learning preferences and occasional behavior problems such as being unable to concentrate or sit still.

Brian has run evening sessions where family members are invited to the space to see what students are doing and participate in some activities themselves.

Turtle Art provided a way for Brian to work with all fourth grade students and teachers and the school’s science and math specialists on a project that combined art, geometry, and programming.

None of these strategies would work in isolation.

Parents and Community

The argument for making, tinkering, and engineering should not be as an “alternative” way to learn, but what modern learning really looks like.

Look to your community for allies in making the case.


It may take time to establish trust and implement authentic forms of assessment, rather than a pop quiz on 3D printer menu options.

Say This, Not That – Advocacy

Students need to be prepared for the real world of the future. Say the following:

A makerspace offers the potential today for students to engage in the real work of mathematicians, scientists, composers, filmmakers, authors, computer scientists, and engineers, etc.

Instead of saying this: All students should be technology literate. Say the following: Computers and other maker technologies are integral to the world of our students and it is incumbent upon us to build upon the skills, attitudes, and interests they bring to us.

Instead of saying this: All students need to learn to use a 3D printer. Say the following: All students are expected to construct, communicate, and defend original thoughts and inventions to a community of experts and laypeople.

Instead of saying this: A makerspace offers an alternative way to learn. Say the following: The entire nature of schooling will and must change. If we do not respond to the promise of emerging technology and the challenges posed by social forces, we will not remain viable.

Say This, Not That — Rebuttal

When someone else says: What you are proposing is expensive. Answer in the following way: So is our football program. Besides, schools routinely spend more money on the real estate, furniture, and wiring for computer labs that are being used for secretarial work and test taking. Instead of building a single purpose television studio or ceramics studio to be used by a handful of students, every student will have a studio that can be customized to create many kinds of products, inventions, and interesting things.

When someone else says: Teachers won’t cooperate; they don’t use the computers we already have. Answer in the following way: Making things appeals to a primal aspect of being human. Making things with tangible materials has a long tradition in schooling.

When someone else says: This is just a fancy shop class. Our children need to focus on getting into college. Answer in the following way: The 21st century is going to see the integration of these tools into every college major and career choice. This is a matter of agency and

Making the Case With Research

Fabrication and Physical Computing

Project-Based, Problem-Based, Inquiry Learning

Design, STEM, and the Arts

Chapter 13 – Do Unto Ourselves

Tens of thousands of district tech directors, coordinators, and integrators have done such a swell job that after 30 years, teachers are the last adults in the industrialized world to use computers. The question must be asked, “Are the very same employees charged with inspiring teachers to use computers creating dependency and helplessness instead?”

Constructing Modern Knowledge

Six years ago, the Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK) summer institute was created based on two big ideas: (1) the educational technology community was operating in a vacuum in which it paid too little attention to learning, and (2) the progressive education community gave too little thought to modernity.

Where there was an expectation 20 or 30 years ago that teachers would become technologically fluent enough to teach their students to program computers, today, the same level of effort is required to get a teacher to use an interactive white board.

The Learning Environment

The learning space is the “third teacher” in the parlance of the Reggio Emilia approach.

We begin the first day of CMK without much fanfare by engaging in a ritual that is initially daunting for some participants. Butcher paper is hung on walls and we ask for ideas that describe what participants would like to make. We coach the participants away from tool-oriented goals, such as “I want to learn how to use Photo Shop,” or teaching-oriented goals, such as “I want to make a lesson about the Civil War.”

As in the preschools of Reggio Emilia, CMK has appointments, but not strict schedules.

Chapter 14 – Resources to Explore

This chapter contains numerous resources including books, websites, articles, videos, and toys.

Project Collections, Tutorials, and Inspiration

Makerspaces and Hackerspaces

Make Magazine



Constructionism Resources

Reggio Emilia Approach

Advocacy, Reports, and

Research Groups

Inventors and Inventing

Play Resources

Places To Purchase Parts and Supplies

3D Printing and Fabrication

Copyright and Intellectual Property


Physical Computing


Creative Materials Old and New

Professional Development, Curriculum, and Standards

Other Books and Resources

School Design

Author Websites and Blogs


Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez are available to speak at your conference, lead workshops, or collaborate in the creation of your makerspace.

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