March 3, 2014
co-authored by Jailyn Volok, Program Director and Maia Stone, Executive Director, at MindSpark
Meet MindSpark. As an organization, we have set out to uncover the minds of engineers and mathematicians, architects and designers, scientists and tinkerers alike. Our after-school programs and camps encourage our merry band of innovators to employ technology and solutions-based thinking in the development of projects that are constrained only by their imagination. Participants learn basic skills in woodworking, e-textiles and simple machines as we blend science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum into our programs.
As part of the MindSpark process, we ask each of our educators to become familiar with and apply the constructivist learning theory in the classroom. The constructivist theory of learning is a spiral form of learning in that learners, when approached with a new situation, will reflect on their prior experiences, then build their own knowledge and understanding of the world based on those experiences and perceptions. In doing so, students also learn how to learn from those experiences. This active mental process allows them to develop ideas with more complexity, innovation and creativity.
Why do we do this? We want to create a classroom environment that produces meaningful, learning experiences. We recently asked Ally, one of our educators, to jot down her down her thoughts and observations on the development of her teaching style and the students in our Tinkering with E-Textiles course. Here were her thoughts on her first day. “I need to figure out how to best teach them so they learn and have fun, but also cover the fundamentals so they’re able to walk away with key knowledge and projects they’re proud of.” From the perspective of constructivism, knowledge is not constructed in the traditional classroom where a learner is just a passive recipient of information from the teacher at the front of the class. While this method may allow the student to “know” the information, it doesn’t allow much room for thinking or learning. And if a student is not motivated or engaged by the process, how much do they really learn?
However, learning truly occurs when students are actively involved in trying to make sense of something on their own. In place of activities that require a recitation of facts and methods, students must have an opportunity to create knowledge through hands on experimentation and problem solving activities. Tinkering allows for just that. It gives students a chance to construct their own world and interact with it on their own terms. Our participants learn to build things, make things and sometimes take things apart. We arm our tinkerers with the courage to approach each project with a failure positive attitude, so they gain perseverance, confidence and new curiosity.
Implementing the learning theory imparts a lot of responsibility on instructors and changes their roles in the classroom. The standard of practice is no longer “I talk, you listen” but instead the teacher takes a more back seat approach, making the student the center of attention. They act as a guide, or facilitator helping students engage in meaningful inquiry, interaction, and reflection while they work through an activity. It requires more active listening and observing on behalf of the teachers so they can learn how their students build knowledge and respond with learning plans that create experiences relevant and interesting to the students. The classroom transforms into a more collaborative, democratic environment between the student and the teacher fostering independent and creative thinking skills.
In this recent course, Ally unexpectedly walked into a classroom full of all boys. Here were Ally’s thoughts on modifying her lesson plan, ”keeping the energy up” as she put it, and how her students felt at the end of the tinkering course.
“I knew three months of sewing wouldn’t keep their attention and began looking at other options and fun projects. I continued to slightly modify the lesson plan I came in with to keep the energy high in the class. The boys wanted to get their hands dirty and keep making. Our projects focused on things they were interested in…origami and conductive paint… conductive thread…learning to sew… attaching LEDs and batteries…. They had creative freedom to come up with designs that interested them. I made sure to weave in their interests to grow ownership and significance in their projects. End outcome – they were excited about electronics, new technologies. They produced projects they were proud of and couldn’t wait to take home!”
We believe that using the constructivist theory of learning in the classroom helps accomplish MindSpark’s objective – to support the creative process by adding new experiences and sources of inspiration to a participant’s mind-bank and enriching individuals by stretching the boundary of their awareness and knowledge through guided self-discovery programs. If you are interested in learning more about MindSpark and what we do, please visit our website, or contact Maia Stone, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.