Saturday, 16 August 2014

Ottawa's Mini Maker Faire - Maker Education Panel

This weekend is Ottawa's forth annual Mini Maker Faire. If you haven't been yet, I highly recommend popping by tomorrow. It's held at the Museum of Science and Technology (not the Aviation Museum, where I first turned up this afternoon). 

My friend, Luc Lalande is one of the most interesting humans I've met in a long time. He is a founding partner of True Innovators here in Ottawa, owns a Community 3D Printer, is on the board for Artengine and is the incoming Executive Director of the University of Ottawa's Entrepreneurship Hub. He decided to offer a panel discussion at this year's Mini Maker Faire, including people with different points of view and ideas about making in education. I'm honoured that he asked me to be on the Maker Education Panel. He is so wonderfully organized that he made a blog post, sent us all the structure and questions and made sure we were all prepared. I like his style!

Because of Luc's great organizational skills and attention to detail, I was way less nervous than I could have been (which brought my nervousness down to a 9/10!). I always worry in events like this that everyone will suddenly realize that I don't know anything and they'll think: "Her?" and question why I'm included in such a great group of people. Anyway, my chronic overthinking wasn't worth it. Everything went really smoothly and only one person recognized my pen spinning on stage as nervousness.

My role on the panel was to answer the questions: What kind of learning occurs when students are encouraged to use educational technology and digital tools? Why is this kind of learning important? Each of the other guests had their own questions to address and we were all encouraged by Luc to "hack" the panel and add to one another's responses. Other members of the panel were Alison Evans Adnani, who I've gotten to work with through her Maker Junior company; Alison's son Nanik, who is a middle school maker; Paul McGuire, the former principal at St. Gregory's and incoming to St. Anthony's; and Rick Alexanderson, a tech teacher from St. Peter High School

When sitting on a stage and talking, I realize how ineffective the "sage on the stage" method of teaching can feel. It's hard to figure out if your audience is engaged or not as they sit back, relaxed in comfy seats. I much prefer involving the audience in presentations so I can make sure I'm meeting their needs and addressing their interests appropriately. Luckily, I had some great supporters in the audience who were familiar faces to look out at and assured me that we were informative and interesting. 

Of course, I made notes to keep me on track, but I was happy to have some paper with me as I took a lot of notes during the session. I've just finished transcribing my chicken scratch.

What kind of learning occurs when students have access to educational technology and digital tools?

Teachers who successfully embrace educational technology are comfortable with: 
  • admitting we don't have all the answers
  • asking for resources
  • being opportunistic and taking advantage of ideas and opportunities
  • communicating our goals effectively to students, parents and administration
  • failing
  • flexibility
  • improvisation (things will inevitably go wrong when trying new technologies or old technologies in new ways)
  • learning new things (and the frustrations that go along with learning new things!)
  • taking risks
  • putting some time into professional development and learning
  • student leadership
  • uncertainty
Really great classrooms are led by futurists who recognize that the skills and tools we give our students today will help them in very real ways in their lives. Leaders recognize that they're preparing students for the next steps in their lives.

What are the benefits for students?
  • transformative: students have ownership over their learning and realize their own powers and abilities
  • collaborative problem solving
  • depth of understanding is evident
  • demonstrate that they know how to think
  • differentiated learning: opportunities for all to thrive and share
  • engagement
  • empowerment 
  • leadership: students help peers, other students, staff to solve problems
  • perseverance: through frustrations and failures, they explore creative solutions and iterate
  • sense of accomplishment
In a very quick hour, we got through a lot of ideas and stories. I was happy to have students and parents in the crowd who were able to offer their persepctives during the Q and A. Stay tuned for a post about how "tech is the new sex ed", inspired by the hilarious father of a former student.

Some of my key learnings from the other panelists include:
  • Rick's advice: If you want to try something new and you don't have qualified or interested staff, start by offering a club for eager students.
  • Rick's high school students have partnered with Carleton to make 3D-printed robot kits. They'll visit classes and teach them how to use them.
  • Alison and Nanik talked about how the curriculum comes alive through making. Nanik is engaged when he works with his hands and becomes motivated to learn.
  • Maker Junior operates on the principle that we should not just receive, but be active creators.
  • Paul describes his role as a principal as the main helper in a school and he is there to enhance the experiences of teachers and kids.
I was happy to speak with many enthusiastic educators at the end of the panel, and had my first ever tiny taste of celebrity. One gentleman came up to me and said his wife was really hoping to meet me, but wasn't able to stick around. I have a fan! My former students who were hanging around thought this was hilarious.

Did you make it to the Mini Maker Faire? How do you think we can bring more Making into our classrooms?


  1. Hey Shauna, what a great summary. Great to work with you again. I look forward to much more -so cool that you had your students there today! Thanks for this.

  2. Hey Paul, it was great to work with you today also! I hope you'll be able to join the Think Tank! Info is on the blog.

    I was thrilled that some students showed up!

  3. What a wonderfully well written summary! Great job on the post and on the panel. You rocked it!

  4. Thanks, Amy! As you know, I was a nervous wreck, but it was really fun and great to get to talk to some amazing people on the panel and in the audience. Makes me even more pumped about Think Tank!