Last year I had the opportunity to volunteer in my son’s 4th grade classroom. They were doing a “maker” program called “Arts in April”. The program consisted of 4 Friday afternoons in April where students could choose one of a variety of art sessions to attend. My son chose Lego Robotics, which isn’t exactly art, but was provided by one grade school teacher, who really liked Legos. What I remember most from my time volunteering was the incredible excitement my son had shown for building and creating something.
I like to reflect on the different ways that adults learn on this blog. But there is another point to this approach. It is that focusing on adults can also shed a light upon how children learn — which is most definitely different than adults. And truthfully, while public education has been mostly successful in teaching children, there are some aspects that could be improved.
Kids love to play. It’s an obvious statement, but rarely taken into consideration in learning. This is why, I believe, the Maker Movement has become so popular. My son loves to assemble Lego kits, and other kits. I, on the other hand, experience dread at the prospect of assembling something — anything, really. Note: I am a Technical Writer, by profession, which requires me to write step-by-step information. But in my job, I try to make assembly instructions EASY for adults. My son loves the complexity. He will happily tackle a 1000 piece Lego set , while the thought of that for me is about as appealing as a trip to the Dentist.
Children need more opportunities to play, and we need a progression of learning style form unstructured to more structured throughout the school years. Computer programming is a great area to focus on this developmental learning style. At the grade school level, students can do open-ended building and exploring with code or robotics. In middle school, students can be exposed to slightly more structure — such as with a more complex Robotics program, where they can work with real procedures, but still play with them. In high school, students can be exposed to real structured programming, such as by allowing them to have distance learning classes in programming. They can work as a group to write programs, but still be allowed to play around with their own section — as long as they can make it work. By emphasizing a maker-approach in the early grades, it can better prepare students for work in the later grades. And they’ll have fun as well!