September 30, 2013

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom

By Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, 2013

As we have noted previously, there are many roads to take to bring making and design to learners. Those who want to explore the avenue of engineering and programming in relation to making and tinkering in the classroom are in capable hands with Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, authors ofInvent to Learn. Within this incredibly comprehensive text, Martinez and Stager present a compelling argument that the time is ripe for maker-/design-based learning:

Amazing new tools, materials, and skill turn us all into makers. Using technology to make, repair, or customize the things we need brings engineering, design, and computer science to the masses . . . . Fortunately for educators, this “maker movement” overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. The active learner is at the center of the learning process, amplifying the best tradition of progressive education. (p. 2)

Invent to Learn includes chapters on the history of the maker movement, learning theory, teaching tactics, materials and space recommendations, helpful step-by-step how-to sections, and lists, upon lists, upon lists of additional resources and suppliers of inexpensive materials. There is even an advocacy chapter that presents educators with a host of model language regarding what to say, what not to say, and what to say in response to pesky naysayers who may challenge the development of maker curriculum or makerspaces within their schools or afterschool programs. The authors firmly root maker learning experiences in the philosophy of constructionism established bySeymour Papert, an early advocate of bringing computer programming experiences to young people. As such, the book veers more towards the technological side of making than towards the industrial arts side of making, but educators interested in bringing any variety of making experiences to the young people (or adults!) they teach will find Invent to Learn useful. And that’s one of the best parts—the book is written with an educator audience in mind.



Born out of Martinez and Stager’s Creating Modern Knowledge (CMK) conferences, Invent to Learn not only advocates for maker learning experiences in schools, but makes a case for what is needed to build a culture where maker teaching and learning can happen. The CMK conferences act as a model for what works in teacher professional development—and the authors build on this work throughout the book. For these reasons, teachers of all ilks will be taking notes, typing in URLs, and tracking down helpful pedagogical tools as they thumb through the text. Educators who are inspired by what they read in Invent to Learn can sign up for a CMK conference or find additional tools on the book’s website

As researchers working for the Agency by Design initiative we are charged with considering design and maker learning experiences in relationship to existing Project Zero frameworks. One of the deep resonances between Invent to Learn and our project is that the book uses many of these frameworks to build an argument for bringing maker experiences to young people. Further resonance can be found in the frequent references to agency and empowerment—two core themes of our project—that Martinez and Stager make throughout the text.

Jess and Edward, September 30, 2013