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Research and Innovation for the Italian School

Maker@School

Maker@School is an INDIRE research project launched in 2014 to study the interaction between Maker-space models, FabLabs and the Italian school system in order to foster the development and innovation of teaching methods related to this phenomenon.

“Makers” are people who possess a strongly innovative approach and who create products that will take today’s society into a simpler and more modern future. They normally share information and know-how using IT systems as well as physical places, called “FabLabs”, i.e. spaces that allow experiments to see how digital technologies might relate to reality.

Maker@School analyses the specific characteristics of Makers and FabLabs when they interact with schools, to help transcend the traditional educational model and foster the creation of modern teaching tools that can encourage students to use a more participative approach.

The research is split between two spheres: the first featuring the study and monitoring of the most important projects involving Makers and FabLabs within schools, operating nationally and internationally. The second concerning the planning of specific teaching activities realised using a “tinkering” type approach, a method very close to the “problem-solving” philosophy, which gives priority to creativity and collaboration and permits gradual learning based on practical experience, to give value to the planning. Through application of the “Think-Make-Improve” cycle, this approach increases the awareness that by studying, trying and making mistakes we can achieve a desired result. The training activities developed during this step of the project are of an experimental type. They are created with the support of teachers, and are related to the age of the students. The educational methods planned so far have concerned infant schools but, starting from the AY 2016-2017, the intention is to extend the project to primary schools.

The results obtained through the activities are examined, underlying their contribution to the educational level of young children, the development of “soft skills” and metacognitive skills and how all these activities are crucial in learning.

Important tools used for the research within the Maker@School project are the 3D printer and the 3D planning software, devices that only work properly if the initial design is well done. Compared to other 3D modelling activities such as Lego, clay, or playdoh, where it is possible to modify the project plan while it is in progress, the 3D printer requires particular care during planning. In fact, an error at this stage will lead to the printing of an object that does not match the required objectives.

As well as 3D printers, the researchers are studying the use of other tools: microelectronic platforms such as Arduino, RaspberryPi and similar, which can be used in a teaching workshop, based i.e. on the active role of the student.

The training activity carried out in the schools taking part in the Maker@School project is called “Building Toys with 3D Printers”. This is a three-year experiment which, starting from the AY 2014-2015, has involved eight infant schools, in each of which was installed a 3D printer and a Doodle3D device. On completion of the training, elements common to all the schools were chosen to represent key elements to formulate repeatable guidelines for other institutes. To create these technological settings, different models of printer and software will be tested, in order to identify strong and weak points in various scholastic contexts. The intention is to define the optimal configurations for infant schools interested in this type of teaching activity.

During the first phase, researchers and teachers developed some teaching activities and included them in a setting that favours storytelling. These tasks were conceived to be carried out through using 3D planning and 3D printing and contain within them the basic elements of scientific research. Researchers and teachers also prepared a structured observation grid, indispensable to assess the results obtained.

In the second phase, the teachers began the agreed activities following a pre-set calendar. The researchers carried out direct observation in the institutes to study the children’s approach to three-dimensional objects, with emphasis on their aptitude to understand perspective and develop spatial intelligence. Their ways of interacting with the machine were also studied as well as how they performed the proposed task.

During the third phase, the data collected were analysed, pinpointing elements common to the different schools. Also highlighted were the positive aspects that emerged during the activities, elements that could prove useful to formulate repeatable guidelines for every school.