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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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Field Notes (Prosthetic Hand)


“Bones and motion. Study your own hand,” Isabella says as she distributes chicken wings. “How do muscles work?” she asks, as the girls begin dissecting them.

Later, she huddles with a team that’s having trouble. Popsicle sticks, glue, tape, strings, and a yellow glove are scattered across their workbench. The girls are frustrated; one keeps walking away. “So if this is the hand,” Isabella says, clenching her fingers to make a fist, and then opening them again, “How would this work?” She’s pointing to the string and stick assemblage. After a moment she leaves the girls to puzzle it some more by themselves. As she passes me, she whispers, “I’d have thrown it across the floor. I would have hated a project like this at their age.”

At a different bench, I hear her say, “This is the way real science works. You experiment, you iterate, you experiment again.”

The assignment is to build a hand-like appendage that can grasp, lift, and release an empty soda can. Arrayed across the tables, students find cardboard, rubber bands, drinking straws, rubber gloves, plastic zip ties, and other household materials. They are to represent their learning by building a prosthetic hand that shares structural characteristics with real hands. For example, “bones” might be made of Popsicle sticks, and “tendons” of rubber bands. ← 97 | 98 → But when a team suggests cotton balls for bones, Isabella understands that deep learning is not yet taking root.

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