I really enjoyed reading Martinez and Stager’s Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom. It has a range of fantastic ideas and resource suggestions that I have been able to implement for my Information Technology class as soon as next week! Great to be able to put their ideas straight into practice. There are some contentions however, regarding the integration of making in the curriculum as it will not necessarily align with curriculum requirements. My final position has essentially been to recommend a blended approach, integrating making concepts and ideas where possible to enrich and diversify learning opportunities.

Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom
Authors: Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
Publisher: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press
ISBN: Print 978-0-9891511-0-8 Kindle 978-0-9891511-1-5

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom is a passionate text written by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager. It was published in 2013 by Constructing Modern Knowledge Press (CMK) in Torrance, California, with an e-book version also made available. A website, http://www.inventtolearn.com  (including a newsletter, blog, updated and extended resources and reviews) seeks to further inform, connect and inspire educators. The authors detail a persuasive, emphatic position in support of the “maker movement” in education.

Reviewers variously describe Invent to Learn as a “must-read” “roadmap” that provides a “background and a path” for educators wishing to implement making in schools (Martinez & Stager, 2013). Martinez and Stager embed their ideas in educational theory, centred on Seymour Papert and constructivism, with links to theorists and pedagogy including Piaget, Reggio Emilia and Montessori. The pedagogy and practice are not new, however a key factor affecting the current evolution of making as identified by Martinez and Stager, is the capacity to incorporate computers through programming and sharing online (2013). The authors insist that students be active rather than passive users of technology, thus incorporating essential digital age skills of creating and metacognition in maker learning opportunities (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001).

It is easy to be caught up in the persuasively advocated concepts and engaging possibilities proposed by Martinez and Stager, however, criticism of their constructivist model must be considered in a holistic consideration of student learning. Additionally, our current educational systems require outcomes that limit the capacity to include Martinez and Stager’s ideas; however, continued evaluation of best educational practice must be undertaken and progression towards the recommendations of Martinez and Stager has considerable merit.

What is the Maker Movement?

A term initiated by O’Reilly Media’s Dale Dougherty, the “Maker Movement”, defines a burgeoning global community that continues to gain traction (Cavanaugh, Sessums, & Drexler, 2015). Characterised by a “do-it-yourself” philosophy, the movement seeks to combine and allow deeper engagement with science, engineering, art and design (Dougherty, 2012). Many communities have developed “maker spaces” (Capdevila, 2013), workshops where technologies are available for users to tinker, play and invent, fostering creativity and innovation. Martinez and Stager are key proponents of the model in an educational setting and their text, Invent to Learn is highly regarded in the maker community (Dougherty, 2012).

Maker vs Mandate

Harvard University’s Tony Wagner argues that schooling and innovation are currently at odds (Stewart, 2014); a view supported by Halverson and Sheridan who contend the greatest challenge to implementation of maker spaces in education is standardised curriculum and accountability (2014). Teachers attempting integration of making into their practice are challenged by mandated standards, preparation for standardised tests and to develop curriculum using outcomes that may not align with maker activities (Thompson, 2014).

Martinez and Stager propose some idealistic perspectives, recommending open-ended enquiry including freedom to investigate individual interests and asserting that in an iterative approach, student projects may never be “done” (2013). The authors argue that the best learning occurs without the pressure of formal assessment and that assessment should determine the direction for a learner’s next steps rather than a summation of their achievement. The current educational system requires end points – summative assessment, grading against outcomes and reporting limit the potential for integration of authentic making.

Standardisation is a powerful force in contemporary education; a system which Dougherty describes as “broken in many ways” (Dougherty, 2012). He acknowledges that change is challenging but like Martinez and Stager, his experience of successful learning through making has created an emphatic and passionate faith in the need for change, as a one-size-fits-all curriculum model maintains structure and accountability, but suppresses innovation.

Is Maker for Everyone?

Whilst proponents argue that everyone is a maker, Halverson and Sheridan contend that not everyone will have the initiative or drive to participate and contribute in a maker environment (2014). They also cite concerns that the maker movement maintains “white male nerd dominance” through the focus on robotics and electronics (2014). They refer to Leah Buechley’s 2013 findings that MAKE magazine, a publication recommended by Martinez and Stager, has reinforced this stereotype with the tendency to feature white boys and men on the magazine cover. Martinez and Stager acknowledge the necessity to open maker culture to all learners, instructing that school maker spaces be gender neutral (2013). Despite their overall support of maker culture, Halverson and Sheridan raise some important questions, noting that “learning is not guaranteed: nor is it regulated” (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014). They ask whether making will promote genuine achievement of STEM competencies; whether making should supplement or replace current curricula and whether the culture is just an in-vogue challenge in an already complicated system. For reluctant educators and administrators, these concerns may justify restricting making within the curriculum; however, Martinez and Stager refute all concerns, detailing an extensive guide to persuasive language and rebuttals, enabling educators to counter resistance from students, parents and administration (Martinez & Stager, 2013).

Making vs. Popular Practice

Whilst aligning with contemporary pedagogy supporting a student centred, interactive approach (Wright, Mannathoko, & Pasic, 2009) Martinez and Stager are critical of popular processes, including backward design (Wiggins, G. McTighe, J., 2005), instructional assessment tasks, scaffolding, as well as the use of checklists and rubrics in assessment. Whilst not at odds with the principles of valuable learning and student engagement purported by Martinez and Stager, backward design, developed as a model by Wiggins and McTighe (2005), establishes the need to make learning meaningful by determining desired outcomes and providing structure and direction. Amongst other documents, The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Science paper advocates backward design; determining curriculum intent in order to plan assessment expectations. (2009, p. 13). Martinez and Stager oppose structured learning processes as predetermined outcomes and delineation encourage compliance and limit scope for unknown creative outcomes. However, equally passionate contemporary research refutes the validity of constructivism on which Martinez and Stager base their work (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2010).

The recent NSW Government report, What Works Best (2014) articulates evidence-based recommendations for explicit teaching practice, including informing students what they will learn, demonstration, explanation and sequencing of skill acquisition. In an article supported by research regarding human cognition, Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2010) argue passionately against constructivism. They define the difference between the methods of a trained researcher for whom existing knowledge provides direction and a novice learner who may flounder and even risk acquiring misconceptions in the process of discovery. The authors state that research resoundingly indicates that constructivism is not as effective as direct instructional guidance in its impact on learning. John Hattie’s effect sizes hold direct instruction at 0.59 and enquiry-based learning at 0.31 in their impact on student achievement (Hattie, 2012) which appears to support the position of Kirschner et. al. However, data to inform effect sizes is based on standardised testing (Hattie, 2012), the validity of which is questioned by Martinez, Stager and others who support constructivism.

These opposing parties are also student-centred in their approach, but they are at odds with Martinez and Stager’s “less us more them” (2013) mandate for an authentic maker culture. Martinez and Stager, whilst investing in learning through discovery, do recommend timely teacher intervention and redirection where necessary to enable forward progress, which may alleviate some adversary concerns. They also acknowledge the worth of instruction where little benefit can be gained from investigation.

Making Making Possible

Martinez stresses that teacher training is essential to progress maker culture (Thompson, 2014) and with Stager in Invent to Learn, recommends online communities which provide educators with access to expert advice (2013). Suggestions of teacher training, immersion and networking are widely supported in literature (Thompson, 2014; Crichton, 2014; Wright et. al, 2009).

In a paper reviewing their implementation of maker culture, Netherlands Christelijk College De Populier staff, van der Meij, Kloen and Hazelaar endorse Martinez and Stager’s recommendation to train teachers and connect with maker culture online and in the broader community. They report marked success, with the creation of a growing “tinker club” to explore and build capacity (van der Meij, Kloen, & Hazelaar, 2014). This school indicates their alignment with mandated curriculum requirements albeit with considerable creative planning, including the removal of divisions between STEM subject areas. Cavanaugh, Sessums and Drexler also note that educators have embraced opportunities to progress, noting growth in teach meets, teacher camps and communities of practice (2015). Dougherty reports developments to support teachers’ initiation of maker spaces, including teacher guides, specifications for equipment, draft guidelines, online collaboration, maker faires and open source content (2012).

Greg Thompson refers to Gary Stager’s position that authentic maker practice requires seamless integration into curriculum (2014). However, significant constraints exist for the complete immersion into maker culture and a viable alternative is the enrichment to learning provided by maker opportunities. The Australian National Science and Technology Centre offer “Maker Projects” (2015) providing the experience of maker activities outside of the regular school context and curriculum. In another scaffolded approach, Dr Douglas Fisher proposes “gradual release of responsibility’ to support students who lack readiness for the increased responsibility and initiative required for making (2008). Fisher recommends teachers start a learning sequence with focused lessons, guided instruction and collaborative learning before independent work. Although Martinez and Stager recommend against partial implementation and field trip engagement with maker culture in schools, the integration of maker opportunities may provide enrichment and variety in a holistic consideration of learning.

Despite the limitations that existing curriculum imposes on inventing to learn, there is much that may be implemented in a move towards this valuable culture. As Martinez and Stager recommend, open-ended investigative task prompts will illicit more creative outcomes than directed prompts (2013). Martinez and Stager argue that making is about process rather than product (2013); whilst this may mean that some measurable, practical skills are not evident from making (Stewart, 2014), creativity and iteration in the process may be both measurable and valuable for innovative learning. The Australian Curriculum Technologies content descriptions include outcomes that value design thinking, innovation, creativity, enterprise and iteration (2015), giving hope that our standardised documents may evolve in support of innovative learning opportunities. Using language in outcomes that allows scope to explore unknowns is a progressive step towards the ideas espoused by Martinez and Stager.


Martinez and Stager have produced a persuasive instructional manual of ideas, resources and methods for facilitating maker culture in schools, leaving little doubt of the engagement value of the practice. The recommendations envision a learning environment that is hands-on, real-world, cross-discipline and immersive. Whilst they acknowledge the logistical challenges inherent in most educational settings, the authors contend that working through and around constraints is a must. Martinez and Stager convincingly counter arguments from adversaries, outlining a clear and dedicated perspective in favour of wholesale integration of the maker movement in education (2013).

Although research opposing constructivism significantly undermines the worth of Martinez and Stager’s position, Invent to Learn promotes the view that many learners are more engaged by doing and discovering than direction and structure; issuing a challenge to existing curriculum constructs. Knowledge gain may result from direct instruction but what of innovation? Allowance for creativity is key to the Martinez and Stager perspective. A balanced provision of instruction and guidance with opportunities to create seems a logical progression in order to generate learning without dissolving creativity.

Invent to Learn and the maker movement prompt consideration of what matters in a learning environment (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014), Although the constraints are real and present roadblocks to the implementation of this engaging learning model, it might realistically be hoped that Invent to Learn and the maker movement will challenge and shake up existing paradigms of teaching and learning and assist the evolution of authentic, engaging and worthwhile learning opportunities.


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