Making Inspired by Nature: Engaging Preservice Elementary Teachers and Children in Maker-centered learning and Biomimicry
Makerspaces, innovation labs, and creativity spaces are gaining traction in K-12 schools and community centers. This exploratory project, Making Inspired by Nature, brings together the art of making, the disciplined practices of design thinking, and the creative practices of biomimicry to engage preservice teachers and children in building innovative solutions to real-world problems. To achieve this, this project is (a) building and evaluating digital resources and hands-on activities for engaging elementary children in innovation through the application of biomimicry and design thinking in a maker context and (b) evaluating models for deepening pre-service teachers’ pedagogical knowledge for supporting student learning in maker-centered classrooms. This NSF IUSE funded project, just ending year 1 of a 2-year project, was in response to an NSF Dear Colleague Letter calling for EAGER proposals to conduct exploratory work with respect to STEM learning and design thinking.
Maker-centered learning, an infusing of many of the practices and ethos of the maker movement into education, provides a framework for developing in teachers and students the mindsets, habits of mind, and processes of innovation that are foundational in all fields of study (Clapp, Ross, Ryan, Tishman, 2016). In a maker-centered classroom, learning is collaborative, driven by curiosity, includes the act of making through prototyping, is interdisciplinary, and shared (Clapp et. al).
Biomimicry provides a unique opportunity for students to investigate how their designs might be inspired by the natural world. Biomimicry, or bio-inspired design fits within the broader field of design-by-analogy (Fu, Moreno, Yang, Wood, 2014). Biomimicry, looking to nature for inspiration, provides an innovative way for engaging children in making, engineering design, and learning about nature. Biomimicry’s interdisciplinary nature engages children in a variety of scientific domains such as life science, chemistry, physics, and engineering. Children may find its hopeful orientation empowering since they not only learn about pressing problems facing humanity but are provided opportunities to apply their own thinking and ingenuity in making solutions.
Data collection includes qualitative and quantitative data to provide information on the quality of the materials, the design iterations, perceived impacts on pre-service teachers and students, and strengths and challenges associated with implementation of the newly developed materials. Data sources include pre-service teacher pre and post surveys (N=70), pre-service teacher interviews (N=50), and student interviews (N=81).
Survey data was collected for pre/post analyses on demographic information and a range of outcome variables: (1) emphasis, value, and utility of core foundational experience topics, (2) teaching efficacy and beliefs related to mathematics problem-solving and biomimicry in science (Tschannen- Moran & Hoy, 2001), (3) connectedness to nature (Mayer & Frantz, 2004) and (4) resources necessary to support their work as a maker educator in the future.
Pre-service teacher focus group participants were randomly selected. They were asked about: their experience with project materials, curricula, and the website; participation in Science and Innovation Saturday Program student camps; participation in the summer Innovation, Design, and Robotics camp; perceived outcomes for themselves and their potential students; and strengths and challenges of the project.
Analyses and findings will be shared at the conference.
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