Maker Learning PD in COVID Times: A Transformative Campus-wide Shift in School Culture

By: Mark Barnett & Dr. Michael Johnston

Frankfurt International School (FIS) and Consilience Education Foundation found a way to combat the obstacles created by COVID-19. Together, they ran an asynchronous and synchronous blended learning experience of hands on making, innovation, and design with the facilitator six time zones away and restrictions on the number of people that can occupy a physical learning space. Robust learning for adults that impacts student learning is about personal experiences and self motivation.

This four day learning experience has already impacted student experiences and will continue to help shape the future of learning at FIS to help foster creativity, confidence, and resilience for our young innovators.

Philosophy of Maker Learning and Constructionism

Maker learning is a way of experiencing educational content and subjects through the context of making, designing, fabricating, and constructing. Stemming from the Piagetian idea of “learn by doing,” maker learning allows students to construct tangible artifacts of learning while also constructing mental models and cognitive associations to previous experiences, thus allowing connections between subject matter and skill development. Maker learning requires a pedagogical shift in school culture from instructionism, to guidance and facilitation and also by intentionally designing learning experiences that are conducive to making meaningful connections.

Seymour Papert, inventor of the first programming language for children and inspiration for the LEGO Mindstorms robotics systems, laid the foundation for maker learning in his development of the learning theory called constructionism. Building on the Piagetian term of constructivism, constructionism posits that learning happens most conducively when children are engaged in meaningful projects that allow for the construction of new knowledge in environments that make use of tools and materials as objects to think with. Papert would often share the famous African parable of “teach a person to fish, rather than provide the fish” and believed that education should be no different. We should provide children with the means to learn and the means to be the leaders of their own learning instead of providing a pre-baked curriculum taught through textbooks and lectures.

“Instead of pushing kids to be more like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them.”

– Seymour Papert, from The Children’s Machine

What We Did at Frankfurt International School

2020 has been a challenge to say the least. The world of education has not been disrupted globally in this way since World War Two. What does this mean for next steps? How can we leverage this disruption to move education in a direction that serves the needs of learners in the 2020’s?

Frankfurt International School (FIS) is leading the way in many aspects and has the will and drive to continue to push the limits. When we originally planned the four day Maker Educator Certificate workshop there was no sign of a pandemic and very little discussion around blended, hybrid, DLP’s, asynchronous, and synchronous learning. Our reality has changed, so now what?

The show must go on. We were prepared to run an in-person workshop with all participants in one space, a multi location workshop for smaller numbers to protect the integrity of divisional and campus bubbles, or a maker workshop in 28 different sites from the homes of all the educators involved. We eventually set up asynchronous and synchronous sessions over four days to maximize the direct contact inputs with the support and hands on making, reflection, and implementation planning.


To see 28 adults engaged in creating, playing, prototyping, failing, re-tooling, and trying again was a joy and a stark reminder of the importance of giving time to design and innovate. In a world pressed by time limits, it is no different in schools as subjects, transitions, and schedules drive students from place to place to learn in sometimes disconnected silos. The aha moments were vast in this learning experience for all adults and this will directly translate into the development of skills and attributes for FIS learners of all ages. When one of the teachers shared, “I never thought I could code,” the discussion quickly turned to the connected nature of design and innovation. Throughout the workshop, they were making with cardboard, circuits, coding in Scratch, using a Makey Makey, hot glue guns, and a wide variety of other materials. A group of teachers from various disciplines and age groups shared, “It doesn’t matter whether we are using digital or product design, scissors or iPads, it’s all the same process, and there is so much learning to be had from going through the process, and failing many times.”

FIS is dedicated to lifelong learning and can’t wait to provide these kinds of learning experiences in Maker Fairs and community events, post-COVID, of course. In the meantime, the impact has begun with students integrating design and making into inquiry units, Science and STEM labs, personal projects, Design-for-Change classes, Design Technology, computer science and much more. When a school consistently revisits its practices, seeks commonalities and shared language, and drives forward with new technologies and pedagogies, it truly serves the needs of today’s learners.

Schools like FIS understand that constructionism provides opportunities for learners to lead in their own learning and have paved the way for teachers to design learning experiences that allow for meaningful connections through maker learning. FIS also understands the importance of building an entire school culture that supports the necessary pedagogical transitions that can allow maker learning to flourish. This starts with a strong foundation, supported by professional development, continuous coaching, and self-reflection. In this process, teachers are empowered to become learning designers and learning facilitators, often taking on the roles of the student and maker to master their own crafts. Teachers at FIS have reported the powerful effects of maker learning and are inspired to continue growing, learning and evolving.

For more, see:

Mark Barnett is passionate about project-based learning and teaching students to create with technology. With 15 years of experience in STEAM and maker education, he has consulted with teachers and administrators all over the world to set up and design impactful learning experiences with makerspaces and related education themes.

Mike Johnston is the Assistant Head at the International School of Frankfurt. He has led workshops for teachers and administrators around the world on sustainability, building global competence, deep personalized K-12 curriculum, and how service learning should not just be what you do, but who you are as a school. 

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