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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 (Invention Convention)


Upstairs in the science room, Amber and Grace talk about inventions with the second graders. “How do we help people solve problems?” Grace asks.

Amber asks the girls where they think inventors get their ideas. After noisy speculation, they propose that inventors notice something not being done and then figure out a way to do it. In the brainstorm that follows, the girls consider dog alarms, light-up purses, and sunscreen applicators for the beach.

Grace tells me that earlier, they had given the girls a battery, two paper clips, and a lightbulb, and without giving explicit instructions, had told them to make the bulb light up. “That eventually leads to designing and planning an invention that can solve some sort of real-world problem,” she says.

Four weeks later, tables line the perimeter of the drawing room on the parlor floor of one of the townhouses, and the girls dash about, finalizing their displays. Grace tells the assembled visitors—mostly parents and teachers, but some other students, too—that an important feature of this year’s convention is the electronics and other high-tech tools the girls have used, such as Little Bits electronics and PicoCricket kits, and the 3D printers. Soon, the crowd ebbs and flows around the displays, and the girls launch into their explanations: automatic dog feeders, prototypes of door lockers, braille dice, ← 75 | 76 → and robots that clean under the couch. Next to each display is a poster the girls have...

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