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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 (Parachute Drop)


The project begins with friction and flow in water, air, and space. Aidan tells the girls to put away their computers and take out paper and pencils; they’re going to draw pictures. He asks, “What hits the ground faster, a bullet fired from a gun, or a bullet dropped from my hand?” Hands shoot up, but one student stands and walks to the whiteboard to sketch her answer. There’s chatter and sass as she does so, and the room fills with drama and loud voices. Aidan grabs a sheet of paper and enthusiastically crushes it into a ball, then raises his arms. In one hand he’s got the crumpled scrunch, in the other a flat sheet. He releases them. “What’s happening?” he asks, uncharacteristically raising his voice. The room replies together, “Friction!” and Aidan says, “Good! Now talk to your partner about friction.”

Later, he spells out the parameters: Design a parachute that’s as light as possible, as stable as possible, and that falls to the floor as slowly as possible. There will be a competition. They’ll work in groups, but everyone will build her own parachute. First they’ll explore coffee filters—how they fall or float—and describe what they find. Aidan holds up handfuls of coffee filters. The girls yell back, “What are our groups?”

After class, Aidan tells me that competition gets the girls to focus, because data collection is a social activity, but devising effective groups is a ← 51 | 52...

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