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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 (Biodiversity)


Beneath the whale, Valerie is besieged with questions about stairs, steps, pyramids, boxes, and videos. “Should I use a still picture?” one student asks. “How about the laser cutter or the 3D printer?” another interjects.

Here at the American Museum of Natural History, on a rare and very special field trip, Valerie tells me that questions about how ideas become visual fascinate her, and that she’s thrilled with her students’ engagement, though she’s having a tough time getting her head around the scope of the project she and her colleagues have unleashed on their seventh graders. At the museum, the goal is for students to immerse themselves in the interactive possibilities they might use in their dioramas. Valerie says she wants their research to lead their build, but the excitement is a little overwhelming. For a moment, we puzzle the relationship between what students are learning about biodiversity and the way they’re conceptualizing the look of that learning—until we’re interrupted again: “What if it’s in the shape of a medicine cabinet?!”

Three weeks earlier, when they’d introduced the project, each teacher had made a short presentation. Kieran said that all the tools in the FabLab were available for their use; Susan explained that art classes would focus on the use of materials; and Valerie showed PowerPoint displays from her favorite museums—the Louvre, MOMA, the Franklin Institute. And then the science ← 123 | 124 → teachers, Isabella and Jessica, had introduced the topics students could...

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