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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 (Rube Goldberg)


Before class starts, a student rushes in, yelling, “Mr. N., can we get started? It’s 12:30!”

Following wind turbines, solar cookers, and a variety of simple machines, and after several weeks of parachute competitions, Aidan’s eighth-grade science students were about to conclude their final project of the year: the maximally inefficient and minimally productive Rube Goldberg machine. The goal had been to design and construct a ball-drop machine with at least five steps (such as levers, wheels, pulleys, or incline planes), including a starting action, and to iterate the design until the machine could successfully complete its task two times in a row. Aidan wanted the students to do three things: build a device that demonstrated the concept of mechanical advantage; reflect on and talk about the building process itself; and apply the physics from class lectures and worksheets to describe the way their machine worked. He said that after measuring and calculating characteristics such as mass, distance, and time, “They should be able to make sense from the math.” But first, the machines have to work; and today is test day.

“I’m really excited!” a student says, dropping her book bag on the floor and rushing to her teammates, who have already begun their final setup and troubleshooting. “Let me drop the ball!” ← 147 | 148 →

Scattered around the science lab, six teams are in position and have started assembling the ramps, levers, and scaffolding of their contraptions. The room appears...

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