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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 (Racecars)


A 50-foot wooden track undulates across the cafeteria floor. Lunch tables have been pushed to the walls; chairs are scattered awkwardly here and there. Throughout the room, sixth-grade girls huddle around stations, building racecars. In teams of two they sort through bins of parts and tools, passing wheels and axles back and forth, and adding or removing weight from their chassis with washers and tape. One pair works with screwdrivers and pliers to remove the motor from a battery-powered toy. “There’s no rules,” one girl says, a bit defiantly. At one station, students streamline the aerodynamics of their cars by smoothing corners and creases, while conversely, at another station, other students are glue-gunning feathers and fuzzy pipe cleaners to theirs.

“Three, two, one—go!”

From across the cafeteria, at the highest point on the track, another run begins with a cheer and the flip of the starting lever. Two cars leap across the starting line and zip down the steepest part of the slope. One car immediately jumps out of the grooves in the track and falls to the floor, but the other one accelerates to the bottom of the first dip, rockets to the crest of the middle bump, catching air as it passes the high point, and zooms down the second incline, a sleek blur of fine engineering. As it crosses the finish line, a sixth grader taps her stopwatch, and from the starting line 50 feet away, her partner ← 1 | 2...

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