Saturday, August 31, 2013

Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez - Some Key Points

The TMI (Think-Make-Improve) Robot 
I read - and loved - this book early in the summer, then loaned it to a colleague, who didn't look at it too closely.  It's a fat-looking book, and to many teachers, that represents yet another heavy task.  Many teachers - often myself included - shy away from tasks such as this, especially in the summer, even when they get a strong recommendation from a colleague they trust and respect.  So I won't fault this person for not digging in and falling in love.  But I did want to share some of the more important and insightful ideas from this great book.

The book is almost worth purchasing just for the resources it recommends for various maker movement sites, programming education links, and so on.  There's a ton.

I should also say that both authors maintain a vigorous web presence, through Twitter (@garystager and @smartinez), their sites ( and, and Gary's blog at, and lots of Maker sites (like and book-related links (like  All of these are worth investigating.

Here are some of the big ideas from the book, for me:

  1. Constructionism (slightly different from constructivism) - learning happens most reliably "when the learner is engaged in a personally meaningful activity outside of their head that makes the learning real and shareable" (32).  "The power of making something comes from a question or impulse that the learner has, and is not imposed from the outside. . . "  A personal impulse is much stronger and much more meaningful if it comes from the learner and not from a teacher, parent, or friend.  "We seek to liberate learners from their dependency on being taught."    
  2. Making, Tinkering, and Engineering - Making is "about the act of creation with new and familiar materials" (33).  It's about expressing your intellect through building things, and taking ownership of the products of that experience, something the book calls the "Ikea effect" - when people value their creations, even when they are flawed, over perfect creations built by experts.  (This makes me think of Karl Marx and the way that the worker identifies with the product of his/her own labor.)  Tinkering is a playful, unstructured approach to authentic problem-solving.  "When you tinker, there are no instructions - but there are also no failures, no right or wrong ways of doing things.  It's about figuring out how things work and reworking them.  Contraptions, machines, wildly mismatched objects working in harmony - this is the stuff of tinkering.  Tinkering is, at its most basic, a process that marries play and inquiry" (38).  Engineering is "the application of scientific principles to design, build, and invent" (39).  
  3. Iterative Spiral Design Model from Boehm, 2000
  4. Spiral Design Model - a model of the design process based on the way that software is typically designed, tested, published, redesigned, tested, re-published, and so on.  The goal of a design model like this (instead of a simple create-publish design, or the simplified, heavily-structured model of the writing process) is "to make constant forward progress through a series of gradually improving prototypes" (49).  This iterative design process encourages more creative play with materials - because if you build it and it doesn't work, you can still fix it and make it better.  In fact, this model is closer to the imaginative play of young children (create, share, adjust, re-share, and so on).  
  5. Less Us, More Them as a "Teaching Mantra" - Let the kids be more in charge in the classroom.  "To start making your classroom more student-centered, demonstrate a concept and then ask students to do something" (70).  Stager and Martinez mention a study where two groups of children were given a toy.  One group was taught how to play with the toy, the other was not.  Both groups were able to play with the toy appropriately, but the second group - which was not provided instruction about how to use it - discovered a wider range of uses for the toy than the first group.  The moral: kids are more creative when they are given more freedom to discover for themselves.  
  6. Creation is the heart of creativity.  They have to make things if they are going to learn to be creative.
There is a lot of material besides these big ideas - these are just my big takeaways.  And I'm sure that I'll notice more as I revisit the book this fall to plan my computer programming lessons (which I'm doing because of this book).  

After these sections, Stager and Martinez talk about three big ideas that they call the "game changers": fabrication (as in 3-D printing), physical computing (as in building robots or painted circuits), and computer programming.  I don't want to try to talk about all of these things in this post, but I do want to come back and say more about the latter- computer programming.  My students will be receiving Chromebooks later this fall, and I hope to teach them how to write programs with them.  I haven't decided all of the specifics yet, but I'm committed.  

There are a lot of good things in this book, even apart from the resources related to the three "game changers."  I definitely think that it's worth looking at.  

Here's a great video about Sylvia, an 11-year-old Maker, and her "Super-Awesome Mini Maker Show":

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