Learn By Doing

Learn By Doing

Educators have several terms for the kind of learning that takes place while a person is making. You might hear “project-based learning” or “experiential learning.” One time-tested concept — over a 100 years old — was coined by John Dewey, an American educator: Learn by Doing.

Another way of saying it is that our own experience is the best teacher. Talking to a child or having them watch someone do something is not an effective way to learn. Trial and error is.

If you think about how you learn to play sports or a musical instrument or ride a bike, there’s only so much a person can tell you or even show you. You have to do it yourself. You have to try. When you try, you get feedback that helps you learn from the experience.

At first, it’s awkward, even frustrating but over repeated attempts, you begin to feel more comfortable and then you are on to the next level.

What making does is apply those insights broadly to learning science and technology as well as art and design. It’s not what we know but rather what we can do with what we know. Through making, we do science, not just read about it, and we build technology, not just use it.

One of the hangups of traditional education is its reliance on lectures and textbooks is that it offers loads of information but doesn’t offer the context of applying it. Traditional education puts theory well ahead of practice. Maker education starts with practice, which provides a context for understanding theory.

So, you will see us refer to making as a practice, just like sports or music. We use that analogy because, no doubt, some of you may have coached your children in a sport and helped them pick up the piano. The focus is on getting the child engaged and learning through doing. Through making, we do design, we learn to use tools, and we explore and experiment.

Another important educator is Maria Montessori, who also believed in learning through doing. She recognized that a child learns through interactions with the environment so creating a stimulating, rich environment was important for a child’s development. Interactions can be tiny moments, like manipulating a set of blocks or trying to cut paper with scissors. She saw the child as the actor who creates the interactions and the role of the adult was to observe the interactions. In other words, let the child play and don’t be too controlling or directive.

A good place to start with young children is to make art supplies available to them, say, at the center of a table. Don’t tell them what to make. Just wait and see what they do. If they don’t seem to get it, start making something yourself — folding paper, drawing, using tape. This time for free play is what you want to be able to create, just like singing songs or playing catch.

Activities and Projects

Making can be as simple as a twenty-minute activity, which might be best for young makers. Making can also be hands-on projects that might take hours or days to complete. Some projects such as we have on Maker Camp or in the magazine, come with instructions that you can follow. It’s a great way to learn interpret the instructions and get practice doing it yourself.

The best kind of making — and our goal — is for a person to create and develop a project based on their own ideas and interests. This is the kind of project that represents considerable effort and its result can be shared with others in the maker community. We will be sharing all kinds of maker projects, many of which come from Maker Faires. As a maker, you become known for your projects.

Whether Dewey or Montessori said it, they realized that our children are always learning and they learn everywhere they are. Learning is not something that only happens in school. Just the same, we are not just learners but we are all teachers. Your children might be able to teach you a few things as well.

There has never been a better time nor have we ever had better resources online for learning and sharing. Making can provide a motivational framework that opens your child’s mind to learning in new ways and to discovering their own talents.

A Different Kind of Face Time

While we will use computers and the Internet to share projects and connect you with makers, our goal is for you and your family to spend meaningful time away from all the devices and screens in your home. Maker learning is grounded in each person’s experience of making, not in the media or devices or computers. Use the internet to find inspiration, demonstrations, and instructions but then gather your tools and materials and starting making. Be active. Get hands-on. Play. Make together.

Share Projects

It’s not enough to just make something—it’s also important to be able to tell others about your project. This is the “show and tell” part of making, creating not just a thing but a story about the thing. Sharing can start at home but you might create a video that you can share with others more widely.

Makers want to hear stories, such as, “We did this because” or “We started here, and we ended up here.” Collect photos, sketches, prototypes, failed pieces of the projects: anything that tells the story of how and why your projects came to be.

If you want to share via social media, tag your posts with #MakerCamp.
As a parent, keep a record of each week of Maker Camp. What worked, what didn’t. It might help you think about what you and your family want to do next week