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Research and Innovation for the Italian School

Maker@School

Maker@School is an INDIRE research project launched in 2014. The project monitors, also beyond national borders, the most interesting educational activities related to the “Maker movement”.

The “Makers” are “Digital artisans”, that is, creators, authors and artists that design and self-produce out of passion mechanical appliances, electronic equipment and open source software, in their laboratories called “Maker spaces” and FabLabs”.

The project Maker@School analyses the specific characteristics of the educational model proposed by the “Maker movementand its application in teaching laboratories. The research aims to investigate the possible interactions between the working methods of the “2.0 artisans” and students’ current learning schemes. The aim is to verify if the innovative tools and the new educational methods, applied in the class, can help transcend the traditional lecture-based educational model, and foster the creation of modern teaching tools that can encourage students to use a more participative approach.

Including “Maker activities” in the educational curriculum can enhance logical-mathematical, scientific and linguistic competencies, and especially meta-competencies and soft skills. This working method can encourage in the students a more participative and engaging approach. It can also help teachers and students to feel more part of the school thanks to educational sessions, where roles are more flexible and peer collaboration is encouraged. This approach also implies re-using objects, the optimisation of resources and a positive problem-solving approach, where errors, instead of being failures, become moments for reflection. The activities of designing and creating products build a bridge between school and society by providing students with refined and ready-to-use skills. From the educational point of view, the object and its making process provide the opportunity to start processes of analysis and self-analyses and to apply knowledge and abilities. The results obtained in the class with these types of activities are evaluated on the basis of their educational contribution, their impact on the development of meta-cognitive and relational competencies, the enhancement of logical thinking skills, and abstract thinking and problem-solving abilities.

The three main characteristics of these types of activities are:

  • The Tinker-ing method, based on the design cycle Think- Make – Improve, includes a stage of conception, a stage of implementation and the final stage of verification and improvement. The last stage leads to the redefinition of the initial project and its assumptions. This cyclical approach enables errors and wrong hypothesis to be turned into chances for improvement;
  • The Share-ing philosophy, that is, collaboration and knowledge sharing among peers. This activity supports and facilitates dialogue and encourages students not to be afraid of making mistakes because it is based on peer checking. This is also the right contexts to develop social self-regulation, assertiveness and responsibility;
  • The Haker-ing approach envisages the analysis of the functioning of some objects, by deconstructing and reconstructing them in order to use the knowledge acquired to create new things.

In 2016, the first research activities carried out in the framework of the project “Maker@school”, “Building toys with 3D printers” and “3DPrimary school” were concluded. The results were collected in the publication “Maker@school- 3D printers at infant school” complying the work of some of the infant school teachers who included this innovative activity in the educational curriculum.

The online environment 3D Indire was created as part of the research. It includes a variety of tools for the modelling and optimisation of the printing process and an area to share models and experiences. In this online environment there are useful tools for the configuration and use of 3 D printing programmes in the class, such as In3Dire, a dedicated server and  SugarCAD, a free software for 3D modelling optimised for schools.

In 2017, a new project started: “The hydroponic greenhouse at school – a new way to observe and study a natural phenomenon”.  The project aims to support scientific educational pathways at infant and primary school through observation, experimentation and modelling of the phenomenon which has been observed. The method was inspired by the famous Bifocal Model of Stanford University, with which Indire collaborates.

During the school year 2017/18, the research on the use of 3D printers will continue, involving more schools: the schools will become more than one hundred, including primary and infants’ schools. Indire’s researchers, capitalising on the experience gained in the last three years, are willing to enhance the continuity between infant and primary school, focusing on the educational curriculum and the development of competencies. Furthermore, thanks to an agreement with the “Istituzione Scuole e Nidi d’Infanzia” of the Reggio Emilia municipality (Reggio Children) a pilot project will be carried out in one of their nursery schools endowed with a workshop.