Purpose before tech or vice versa?

As the project has looked at the impact of making on learning with this group, I’ve shared innovative examples to try to inspire through the planning, thoughts and decision making stages to support students’ own innovations.

Threaded into inputs about design and process have been ideas to extend making opportunities and draw out comparisons and thoughts about a maker’s propensity to be creative and what that can look like.

Interestingly, for some students, this correlated to maker projects with perceived ‘high tech’ physical computing devices incorporated such as Raspberry Pi.  Conversations and discussion around complexity and purpose with such examples even gave a “Woah, that’s proper tech” from one interested student (for research purposes I’ve kept to the local language colloquialisms used!)

Complexity in this case, through possible projects with an Internet of Things focus, impacted on particular students’ engagement and interests with such tools as the touchscreen and sensors as inputs/outputs.

Talking through a Retro Pie project also generated enthusiasm for some too; particularly from the gamers amongst the group. Through guided questioning they started to use the project idea to differentiate purpose and assimilate how inputs can radically change a design plan and outcome combinations.

What followed were fascinating insights into perceptions of the tech element of digital making and how students can become engaged with the addition of wider learning possibilities.  For some, it was an indication that their engagement levels increased when consolidating knowledge and skills from across the curriculum.

Taking an interest built up from a technology discipline in school for example, or at home, saw one of the students keen to create a project using crochet.  Designing an adornment through textiles was already familiar to her, but then adding a wearable tech component gave the chance to consider broader purposes and more perceived ambitious outcomes.

For another student then the thread of a ‘tech for good’ project saw her sketching ideas to take wearables into the feline market.  That approach was definitely with a purpose of pet protection and collar design came before actual functionality. It was through the iterative design stages on paper before second stage decisions with tech became clear, and during the prototype stages she seemed to enjoy tinkering with the code online rather than committing to an initial written plan.

Throughout the term we’ve observed examples of personalised and collaborative student approaches in this school’s maker environment. For me, some have been compelling as reinforcement to the ideas that digital making can be self-differentiating and inclusive.

For this post I wanted to consider the students’ perceptions of creativity potential through digital making; particularly with tech and how that was incorporated into their designs.

Of course impact on learning is paramount and over time we saw a realisation that process can be more important than outcome. Sketches sometimes became a stimulus to build on progression of ideas and programming.

Using Codebug as a physical computing device, to design a wearable tech piece, supported differentiation and progression capabilities. The starting point as a communication tool, to write a scrolling message through remixing shared code, gave everyone the chance to download a functional algorithm.

Sketching then gave some students the impetus to consider complexity and progression, particularly to visualise feasibility for inputs and outputs, and for some this approach was new; something more akin to art. That’s also where the progression routes with other physical computing devices and craft circuits came to the forefront with project possibilities.


What struck me during the final workshop was the expectation from the students that they each had unique designs but could collaborate to learn from each other.  Perhaps also that self-guiding roles in a practical environment seemed informal?

And sketches.  Sketches evidencing progression of ideas and adding the potential for further creative and tech elements.


How did the last session end?

With a commitment from the school to continue to provide opportunities for this group of students in their makerspace.  Next term they’ll be working on new wearable tech projects with the same Codebug devices; either as one team or through two very distinct projects.

And sketches; that’s how the session finished.  Maybe the final week of term had planted a festive seed of imagination and creativity, but could wearable technology have a Yuletide theme?

Here’s how one of the students explored his own question through designs; as yet, unfinished:



Extending learning opportunities through MakerEd

Our research focuses on the impact of ‘MakerEd’ on the formal curriculum, but as an educator I’ve wanted to incorporate tools and chances for students to recognise opportunities outside of school which can also impact on their learning.

Opportunities, perhaps, to offer collaborations which support progression of learning or meeting role models.  In Leeds there’s an ever growing maker and digital creator community which can be accessed by these 12-14 year old students (sometimes with family members) and for which we share upcoming events.

Inspiration and programmes from the tech and craft/maker communities are examples and some students have shared times of family learning and intergenerational conversations and discussion of ideas.

Project ideas, plans, designs, personal notes and evaluations have been uploaded by students using the SeeSaw App tool.

For some, and definitely not all, this has given the chance to continue with their designs and reflections beyond school and share with family members or peers.


Extended learning opportunities also emerged for some students when new resources and tools were added to project possibilities.

Examples with the Jumping Clay  air-dry modelling resource or adding ‘more tech’ such as using Codebug with a Raspberry Pi mini-computer were engaging factors for the group; moreover different inspirations for different students’ interests.  For those intending to use their wearable device outdoors and to be secure, then introducing Sugru as a Maker tool helped to develop ideas – particularly those with a cycling focus.


Still with a wearable tech focus, additional ‘low tech or no tech’ tools extended creative ideas and discussions about Art or Textile projects becoming STEAM or e-Textile activities.  In turn that became conducive to exploring MakerEd in the formal curriculum; wherever the students think that may be.

Learning through Making?

‘Making’ a start in school

We’ve facilitated MakerEd workshops in our first school this half-term and, recognising teacher observations and students’ preferred learning methods during the project, made tweaks and changes along the way. Some planned and others less predicted; I’ll explain through later posts!

From the onset my intention has been to use the school-based time to explore what maker education means to the students by ‘doing and making’.

These sessions have been practical and group sizes of less than 10 students have also given more collaborative opportunities which weren’t planned right at the beginning; ideas generated beyond initial individual projects and paired activities and later developed through the wider group.

Students’ understanding of ‘Maker’?

It was apparent from day one that ‘Maker’ and ‘MakerEd’ weren’t regularly used phrases and recognised by the whole group to describe the challenges we were launching.

Rather ‘digital making’ and ‘making stuff with tech’ seemed to resonate more with them and for which generated discussions around how, why and what learning opportunities could be possible with this approach; and also, of course, if any were.

Project tools and Maker resources

In what could’ve been a whistle-stop experience through Maker with these students (spoiler alert – perhaps that’s inference of continuity beyond the project?), resources were selected to facilitate problem-solving, creativity, computing and STEM challenges in an informal way but with inspirational and aspirational opportunities and capabilities.

Of course adding the ‘A’ from STEM to STEAM gave way to a starter to investigate process, design and iteration using electric paint.

That ignited thoughts on learning through making ‘creative’ or ‘art’ circuits, playful electronics and exploring conductors.  Interestingly, this also lent itself to exploring Maker placement across subjects and the students’ perceptions of which curricula areas it ‘fits’ with.

Perhaps notable for some students was the realisation that tinkering can mean getting it right second time around and even not completely perfect after many iterations.

Informal approaches like this have been fantastic chances to explore during the research time, with their teachers, to observe students ‘making stuff’ and talking about their learning experiences.


Other resources in the project toolbox are intended to support progression of ideas and learning through physical computing devices.  Touchboard and Arduino boards are available for students’ making projects, as are Raspberry Pi.

At times we’ve explored inputs and outputs, using example projects with these devices, as a way to explore maker language and understanding of concepts to support learning if students were seeking clarification.  It’s also given opportunities to discuss skills used through MakerEd from across the curriculum and subject programmes of study; for some knowledge about electronics had come from Science, Textiles, Computing or D&T.


Wearable challenges

What became apparent with this first cohort of students and their teachers was the intrigue, interest and inventive opportunities around making a project using wearable tech and so they selected the Codebug device to explore.


And that’s the route that these students have taken.  Their challenge has centred around a purpose, relevant to their own interests, for a wearable technology device to be used as an accessory outside of school.

Designing and prototyping using different materials has seen various iterations and final decisions.  And for me the first rethink in activity choice when I’d planned with their teacher and confirmed we’d allocate a topic to assist with themed creations.  That soon changed!


From the second workshop, after my initial input and overview, the students started to plan in their own way and style.

That sometimes became practically building code on the computer in creating an algorithm or sketching ideas onto paper.  Some also preferred to model using craft resources and see a metamorphosis of their ideas as a prototype transformed with more tinkering.


Applications and designs?

There have been a range from the group and for some students a continuum of design themes and outputs; sometimes very different to their original and intended outcome.  Wearable technology as a decorative adornment piece, a communication tool on a bike or a pet’s collar and wearable retro gaming machines were just some of their early ideas.


We’ll share more creations and wearable outputs at a later date.

What’s Maker Education?

‘Making’ is a very popular topic these days. There is plenty of information available on the web so I will just give a few pointers as a form of introduction.

Digital making is the process of creating a product or output. Although it is often associated with software programming, it can also involve modifying, adapting and personalising existing digital or physical tools to make something relatively new or original. According to its many advocates, it’s as much underpinned by technical skills as by the ability to work together, solve problems creatively, and think critically about technologies and what can be accomplished through them.

All of the above applies to digital ‘fabrication’ which, however, also has a distinctive emphasis on the increasing availability of ‘output devices’ such as laser and 3D printers which, although still rather expensive, are beginning to ‘democratise‘ sophisticated design practices. The notion of fabrication as an educational process originated in the US, with some high profile developments like the ‘FabLabs’ (Fabrication Laboratories). For some, fabrication represents the ‘superior’ form of making – especially in formal school settings – as fabricated objects easily become ornamental displays that turn classrooms in creative studios or science museums. By contrast, purely digital artefacts don’t have this power as they exist solely within the confines of a computer screen.

These ideas have been steadily gaining popularity over the last few years. Unsurprisingly, they have been become part of the global ‘STEM deficit’ narrative and have informed policies and programmes to foster ‘innovation skills’ and computational expertise, especially among ‘underrepresented’ groups such as young girls. The number of digital making/coding/fabrication initiatives is mindboggling with state departments, ministries, and large tech corporations the world over sponsoring campaigns, projects and competitions.  Some of these ironically missing the point and unwittingly touting the same gender stereotypes they set out to challenge – see the recent IBM campaign inviting women to #HackAHairDryer.

In some important ways, the movement is the ‘computational’ rehash of traditional tinkering and crafting practices, which have interesting histories of their own largely tied, again, to shifts in gender roles and the growth of disposable time for interest-driven activities. An equally important factor is now established recognition that important differences exist between technological literacy (a general set of skills and intellectual dispositions for all citizens) and technical competence (in-depth knowledge that professional engineers and scientists need to know to perform their work).

A recent review made an attempt to group the Maker Movement into three categories – which in fact overlap significantly but are a good way to start teasing out some interesting aspects for our own project: making as entrepreneurship and/or community creativity, making as STEM pipeline and workforce development, and making as inquiry-based educative practice. Some also praise maker culture as the sign of a growing interdisciplinary attitude to skills development, whereby STEAM (i.e. STEM with addition of Arts) seems to offer a more inclusive and less threatening framing for the development of educational curricula and ‘cool geek’ identities.

In the UK, the maker movement has been largely assimilated in the various ‘learning to code’ initiatives launched after significant changes in the ‘computing’ curriculum in English schools. Some thought provoking accounts of the entanglement of interests and forms of governance surrounding the computational turn in UK education are available.





Welcome to the ‘MakerEdLeeds’ official blog. MakerEdLeeds is a small research study funded by the Society for Educational Studies (SES). As the name (hopefully) suggests, the project is concerned with ‘maker education’ and, more precisely, with how the maker movement is impacting on the cultures and practices of formal education. I am Carlo and I am the project coordinator. Assisting me in the task of ‘making sense of making’ is Claire, who knows much more about coding, fabrication and hacking than I do. To be totally honest I am rather ignorant about designing technology and engineering practices. I am (full disclosure) a social researcher, mainly interested in how this ‘movement’ is being talked about and how it became an ‘educational thing’. Something directly and indirectly shaping curricula and driving investment in hackables, wearables, programmables, microcontrollers and credit-card sized computers. Mostly however I am interested in how regular, non-tech savvy English students and teachers understand ‘maker education’, and where they place it in relation to other interests, commitments and to the barrage of expectations and social pressures competing for their precious time and attention spans.

We are working with two secondary schools in Leeds (Swallow Hill Community College and Carr Manor Community School), running sessions with Y8 and Y9 students, and involving teachers as observers and researchers. This blog’s purpose is to document the project as it progresses until its scheduled conclusion in the summer of 2016. The project officially started in September, and since then we have been busy refining the overall approach and method and examining our own assumptions about maker education. We have also run a few sessions with students and interviewed some teachers, and we now feel more confident about sharing some of the things we are learning. Enjoy… and please leave (constructive) feedback in the comments section!