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Learning Through Doing

Maker Movement Co-Founder Gary Stager Inspires Students with Ideas.

On November 10, Steward students received a little career advice from Maker Movement co-founder Dr. Gary Stager: “Making things is incredibly important regardless of what field you think you’re going to go into.” Dr. Stager, the first 2015-16 Visiting Innovator, believes that ideas from five or ten years ago that didn’t seem possible are now “stuff that first graders will get for Christmas.”

Dr. Stager presented "Learning to Play in Education: Joining the Maker Movement" to existing members and newcomers to the Steward community in the Bryan Innovation Lab that evening. “I have always believed in using computers to amplify human potential,” he says. “As educators, we need to be preparing children to solve problems we never anticipated.”

In his lecture, Dr. Stager cited specific characteristics of a Maker education, which include constructionism, creation, intimate learning, serendipity, and more. He noted that the Maker movement encourages active learning, which captures children’s attention and allows them to explore.

Dr. Stager has held many titles during his 30-year career, and he is currently special assistant to the head of school for innovation at The Willows, a DK-8 school in Culver City, California and the executive director of The Constructivist Consortium. He is clearly inspired by seeing kids make connections between technology and inanimate objects, which is essentially the gist of the Maker Movement.

With the launch of Make magazine in 2005, Dr. Stager said that for the first time on display, there was a combination of making things and using digital technology to make them move and communicate; it also involved timeless skills like knitting, sewing, and crochet. The followers of this movement “thought it would be cool to come together,” he says, and thus the Maker Faire was born.

In Dr. Stager’s eyes, “there are now kids at the center of a revolution. They know stuff and are willing to share it with others” on the internet. He gave the audience many examples of projects that combine math, art, and digital technology to solve problems like watering plants or feeding goldfish, and in addition he noted several of his favorite examples:

  • Caine’s Arcade—a nine-year-old boy spent his summer break building an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his father’s used auto parts store. A filmmaker created a documentary about Caine, which ultimately led to a movement and enough money for him to “retire” at age 11.
  • Super Awesome Sylvia—an eight-year-old girl who enjoys science experiments and creates her own online show, In the episode Dr. Stager showed, she creates an Arduino Adjustable Strobe and demonstrates how it can be done at home.
  • Using Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room as an inspiration, Dr. Stager showed footage of teachers using Hummingbird programming to create robotic birds.
Dr. Stager’s resume includes numerous contributions to the education world; most recently he co-authored the book "Invent to Learn—Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom." He was a pioneer of laptops in education, having led professional development sessions since 1990 and designed online graduate school programs. He has served as a contributor to The Huffington Post; a visiting professor at Pepperdine University, Trinity College, and the University of Melbourne; and a collaborator with the MIT Media Lab Future of Learning Group. Author, speaker, and futurist David Thornburg once said of Dr. Stager, “Some people think 'outside of the box.' Gary is unaware of the box's existence!”

With a day of classroom visits and a mini Maker Faire in the afternoon, Dr. Stager gave the Steward community reasons to continue building and playing at any age.

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