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Learning to Teach in the Digital Age

New Materialities and Maker Paradigms in Schools


Sean Justice

Learning to Teach in the Digital Age tells the story of a group of K–12 teachers as they began to connect with digital making and learning pedagogies. Guiding questions at the heart of this qualitative case study asked how teaching practices engaged with and responded to the maker movement and digital making and learning tools and materials. Over the course of one school year, Sean Justice attended to the ebb and flow of teaching and learning at an independent K–12 girls school the northeastern United States. Teachers and administrators from across grade levels and academic domains participated in interviews and casual conversations, and opened their classrooms to ad hoc observations. In conducting the study, Justice interwove a sociomaterial disposition with new materialism, posthumanism, and new media theory. Methods were inspired by narrative inquiry and actor-network theory. Findings suggested that digital making and learning pedagogies were stabilizing at the school, but not in a linear way. Further, Justice suggests that the teaching practices that most engaged the ethos of twenty-first-century learning enacted a kind of learning we hear about from artists, writers, scientists, and mathematicians when they talk about what innovation feels like, leading to the proposition that a different kind of language is needed to describe the effects of digital materialities on teaching practice.
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Chapter 3. Digital Materialities


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The previous chapter compared and contrasted two learning traditions that inform maker education: One described individuals making and sharing artifacts via reflective conversation (constructionist artistic development); the other drew learning as a communal process that situates, distributes, and connects knowledge through interest-driven affinity spaces (socially centered learning). As noted, a robust description of materiality is missing from that comparison. For me, this absence indicates, as education researcher Estrid Sørensen (2009) suggests, a “blindness toward the question of how educational practice is affected by materials” (p. 2). That is, though maker education emphasizes tools and materials such as laser cutters, cardboard, and programming languages like Scratch, among many others, the way these things contribute to learning is rarely analyzed or evaluated. For instance, when Martin (2015) distinguishes between additive and subtractive assembly tools, or when Halverson and Sheridan (2014) describe maker culture in three different makerspaces, questions of how and why are not asked: How might learning change if students explore cardboard instead of Plexiglas, or Python instead of Scratch, or the laser cutter instead of scissors and tape? These kinds of questions aren’t available in the maker education conversation. In this, I’m in agreement with Sørensen (2009): “We should place a stronger emphasis on ← 53 | 54 → materiality in educational theory in general” (p. 8). In this chapter I’m gathering together ideas about tools and materials, and how they matter to learning. My goal is to arrive at...

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