Papert’s Perestroika

During the FabLearn Conference at Stanford University this fall, Dr. Edith Ackermann, presented a captivating and inspiring presentation to her audience. In her keynote, she briefed the audience about the Maker Movement, she spoke on the importance and essence of play, and spoke in high regards about the founding members who helped shape and transform Maker Education as we know today. Dr. Ackermann referred to the maker movement as “Papert’s Perestroika.” This phrase refers to Seymour Papert, the innovative mathematician and educator who developed constructionism and brought technology to life for children by teaching them programming and robotics in ways never before seen. The term Perestroika, refers to the restructuring of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Coined together in reference to Maker Education, “Papert’s Perestroika” refers to the rapid restructuring of the educational system. A transformation from traditional learning to an approach that focuses on design and innovation, which allows for creative collaboration, problem solving, and discovery.

With the growing emphasis on educational standards, testing, and funding a direct result of student “achievement,” the role of making can get lost in a sea of traditional educational practices. Despite this, those who engage in meaningful making, human-centered design, and constructionism quickly see the deep and lasting impressions it has on students. Just recently, a student in my middle school class reflected on her experience learning to use hand tools to design and build a wooden bridge. While she could have reflected on her newly- acquired skills with a saw or how she learned about architectural engineering in the process, she instead focused on how challenging yet rewarding it was to teach herself these skills. In a world where she and many students are used to having direct instruction, this approach to learning was new. While she found it challenging, as she continues to practice skills of utilizing resources such as communicating with peers, reading instruction guides online, watching tutorial videos, using a teacher as a mentor, and trying, failing, and trying again, her confidence will grow and it will become easier. She is not just learning about bridge design and hand tools. She is learning that she has control of her own learning. She is understanding the importance of collaboration. She is learning persistence. She is learning that she is a creative problem solver. And, eventually, she will learn and believe that she has the ability to change the world.

Maker Education is in fact a rapid revolution and one that squashes traditional educational theories and approaches. But when traditional educational theories have the goal of developing individuals who perform well academically in very specific categories, measured in distinct and rigid ways, the maker movement brings a breath of fresh air. It allows our students to understand the value of growing both academic and social-emotional realms. It teaches our youth that as a community, we value their ability to recognize problems in the world and respect their bravery, confidence, and creativity to design and test solutions. Our children are our future, and what is better than to raise young makers who will grow up knowing they can leave a lasting and positive impact on the world?