Invent to Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the classroom by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager

Invent to Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the classroom by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.

Invent to Learn Book Cover

As summer comes to a close for BC teachers, I am pumped up for the potential as we start back. Over the last 3 years, we have been moving in learning directions that align beautifully with the Maker movement, Tinkering and Engineering in the classroom.

  • A shout out to Lisa Domeier de Suarez (@librarymall), and Sarah Guilmant-Smith for spearheading the Learning Commons movement within Surrey
  • Kudos to the direction of Elisa Carlson (@EMSCarlson) and the expertise of many Helping Teachers at DEC for the Innovative Learning Designs projects
  • Thanks to Orwell Kowalyshyn(@kowalyshyn) for advocating for our first 3D printer in Surrey.

I believe these projects have set in motion an explosion of making, tinkering and engineering in Surrey. Ironically, as mentioned in the book, much of the early work with computers in schools was aimed at engaged student learning for creation and creativity. Unfortunately, Computer Science was born and relegated computers to specialists and desktop publishing for many years. Now 40 years later, we are back to the place imagined by Seymour Papert. He envisioned computers in classrooms being used as part of a maker movement (before it was called Maker) “to invent and build an endless variety of cybernetic systems.”

I have been focused for several years on Information and Media Literacy(IML) with a focus on Creating and Communicating. I have added a new capacity to my schema for IML to better capture innovation and invention. “Beyond fluency, personal fabrication, programming and physical computing shift the emphasis from passive consumption to active creation and invention.” (p29) Being Information and Media Literate empowers the learner to be contributors to society: Being a Maker is contributing to society.

Bringing invention to classrooms pushes the boundaries of what learning means. Sometimes teachers are the limits. “It is unacceptable and unnecessary to deny children the opportunity to work on something they are passionate about because the teacher is not an expert in that particular field. “ p 64 Teachers have to accept learners learn in a variety of ways and we have to offer learning in a variety of ways (not just teach in a variety of ways). If we stick to traditional teaching (as opposed to co-learning), we create artificial limits. Even giving great standard projects have predetermined limits.

“In the practice of design, the purpose is not to represent what is out there (or model how things are) but to imagine what is not (or envision how things could be) and to bring into existence what is imagined. Creators are fabricators of possibilities embodied: They both make and make up things.” (Ackerman 2007) p39 “When children are allowed to think through problems, they may invent different paths to a suitable answer. The purpose of school should be to encourage children to develop such skills.” P 71

One discussion in the book refers to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The successful engineers that were retiring worked differently and more effectively than new hires. Interviewing the retirees, they found the core difference was tinkering. The retirees all had access to workshops or labs as children. Play involved tinkering and making for the retirees.

I think a lot of the success I have in life with troubleshooting, problem solving, and learning is that I was a tinker. My dad had a workshop that we spent time in almost every night. I worked with soldering electronics, cutting wood, drilling, we even had a lathe. I started programming on a VIC 20 with hot air balloons – I tinkered with changing the size, shape, and speed of the balloons. This way of living hasn’t changed.

This week:

  • I removed old and installed a new washer and dryer for my mom.
  • I had to build a support to hold the old hung dryer while I unscrewed it.
  • I made cheese from milk that I froze as it was about to expire.
  • I tried out a set of wide angle and macro lenses for the iPhone.
  • I created an iMovie Trailer during a workshop I was co-presenting.
  • Repaired 5 pool inflatables with material from other destroyed ones – including patching an expensive one on the inside by pulling the tear out through the inflater valve before patching the outside.

This month:

  • I rebuilt two websites
  • Relearned wordpress and several plugins
  • I captured several hours of home videotape footage to digital

I approach life with a tinkering, do it yourself, fix it, try it mentality and I don’t have to know the answer before trying.  I see the world as an opportunity to explore, and figure it out.  This  changes what is possible to create and even what is allowed to be imagined.

Fabrication, Physical Computing, and Programming are game changers to learning. The idea of fabricating any small object imaginable with a 3D printer explodes my imagination. Interacting with computers to respond and interact has considerable potential. We could design, fabricate, program and use our own NEST style thermostats, colour changing light bulbs, or robotic service dog

Reading this summer has been amazing, three books all connecting well with the direction we as a district are moving towards is empowering. Making visible to myself the making, tinkering, inventing mentality has helped me understand how and why I often see the world differently that some around me.


I marked up my copy with lots of quotes that resonated for me. Some additional points include:
“Making is a way of documenting thinking of a learner in a shareable artifact.” P43

Design Models for learning p50
Imagine – Create – Play – Share – Reflect – Imagine …. (Resnick 2007)
Think – Make – Improve (Polya)

The Role of Powerful ideas in Changing Education
“Schools used to demand that students meet standards. But the time is coming when students will demand schools live up to the standards of learning they have come to expect via their home computers.” P55

Stager’s Hypothesis – A Good Prompt is Worth a Thousand Words
– A learner can exceed expectations with the following 4 variables in place

  1.  A good prompt
  2.  Appropriate materials
  3. Sufficient time
  4. Supportive culture

The genius of this approach is that it is self-evident. If you lack one of the four elements, you know what needs to be done. P 61

Good prompts need to be immune to assessment
“If students are collaborating and regularly engaged in peer review or editing, then the judgment of an adult is really unnecessary. Worst of all, it is coercive and often punitive.” P61
“As for the research studies: Collectively, they make it clear that students who are graded tend to differ from those who aren’t in three basic ways. They’re more likely to lose interest in the learning itself. They’re more likely to prefer the easiest possible task. And they’re more likely to think in superficial fashion as well as to forget what they were taught. (Kohn 2010)”
p 81

Making Memories – Remember the time we ….
“Projects are what students remember long after the bell rings. Great teachers know their highest calling is to make memories.” P 67

Eight Big Ideas Behind CONSTRUCTIONist Learning Lab (Seymour Papert)
“ The second big idea is technology as building material. If you can use technology to make things you can make a lot more interesting things. And you can learn a lot more by making them. This is especially true of digital technology: computers of all sorts including the computer-controlled LEGO in our Lab.” P 73

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