Anna Elísa Hreiðarsdóttir: The MakEY project
Anna Elísa Hreiðarsdóttir is a Lecturer/Assistant Professor at the School of Education, University of Akureyri. She is a participant in the MakEY project and last October/November spent a month in Bucharest Romania, where she visited schools and makerspaces and participated as a guest in a workshop with the Romanian team. Her research interests are in early childhood education, play as a teaching method, creative learning and technology.
The MakEY project has its own webpage with more information about the project and a research project blog. Here is Anna’s latest blog:
In my secondments in Romania I thought a lot about makerspaces and if they could come in many forms. I wondered if the definition of what makerspace means is limited. I am a preschool teacher and worked in preschools for decades and now I teach students in teacher education. Therefore I wonder how makerspace and precshools fit together.
Short introduction: In Iceland, preschool constitutes the first level of the education system and is attended by children below the compulsory school age at the request of parents (links to law and curriculum below). To be a preschool teacher one needs a M.Ed. In education.
The influence of Friedrich Fröbel (1782 –1852), the founder of the kindergarten is still recognisable in Icelandic preschools although many other influences could be named such as Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952), Rachel and Margaret McMillan (1859/1860 – 1917/1931) and Susan Issac (1885 – 1948). Fröbel founded kindergarten to educate children through care and sensory based play and the goal to develop an all-around maturity. Sensory based play and art or creativity are related topics and are all part of the preschool curriculum. Montessori taught teachers to use science and developmental activities with young children and to let children choose projects to work on. Her child-centred education was built on scientific observations. Issac said that play is important because play is the work of children and they learn through play and benefit especially in social and emotional development. She also thought children should learn critical thinking and that independence was important. The McMillians emphasised the meaning of wellbeing, health and outdoor education. All this has been from the beginning part of preschool teachers education (since 1946). Creativity has always been a big part of the curriculum in Icelandic preschools.
Fröbel and Montessori both designed teaching materials and they can be found in Icelandic preschools. From now on I will focus on Froebel because his method is based on open materials and projects and therefore stands near the makerspace ideology. Fröbel believed that people are creative by nature, and to be happy they need the opportunity to be a part of projects and participate to reconcile and understand. This explains his interest in play because it is creative. In Fröbel’s kindergarten, music and art are used to build cognitive development. Research has since then shown this to be correct, regarding language, problem solving, math and science. The same can be said about play as a way to learn.
Frank Lloyd Wright once said that his work benefitted from playing with Fröbel blocks, and in his book, Innvent kindergarten, Norman Brosterman (1997) named many famous people who played with his blocks such as Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. More could be named (Josef Albers, Charles Eames, Buckminster Fuller and Johannes Itten) as the Fröbel influence on contemporary art and architecture is significant, and the preschool was founded on revolutionary ideas aimed at visual projects, systematic teachings in art, design, math and natural science. The reason I say this is to show that this has been a part of the Icelandic preschool: creative learning through project based tasks that put emphasis on STEM.
_DB_8440Many years ago I read Seymor Papert’s books, The Children’s Machine and Mindstorm and when a web design that I made (with Arnar Yngvason) won 3rd place in the European competition eLearning award 2003, we used the price money to buy LEGO Mindstorm for our school. The coding was a bit difficult for the 4 and 5 year olds but they still loved the results. Now one can choose from a variety of toys and apps specifically designed for coding with young children such as OSMO, Cubetto and MakeyMakey.
Creativity, the newest technology, collaboration, and integrate projects is what preschool teachers work at every day. Therefore it was very enjoyable to read Mitchel Resnick’s book, Lifelong Kindergarten. Resnick writes that it is important for all school levels to teach like kindergarten teachers because the students benefit and it helps them in their future. The foundation of creative society may be described in four words, the four Ps, project, passion, peers and play. He discussed that common belief of what creativity means is too narrow and that can be a problem because the world needs a generation that thinks creatively, can express themselves, explore, experiment and push the boundaries, and therefore education should focus on making children think for themselves.
Creativity has been a part of my teaching and, thinking back, I can give an example. The school had workshop on carpentry with all the necessary tools. The children were taught to a) imagine and think about what they would like to make, b) draw their thoughts, c) check for materials necessary for their task and then d) start working on their idea. This preparation process helped them to define their project and set a goal to work on. Of course their projects changed and that was alright but the design process was critical to make their work unique and individual.
I used the same method when working with arts and crafts in organised teaching, but the children often used this method in their own play and creations as they found it useful. Resnick said children learning in a creative environment is like a spiral, they imagine, create, play, share and reflect. It is important that teachers work systematically at creative teaching and teach children methods and ways to do so. Teachers have to foster this ability in children because it is important that they grow up to be creative, with the ability to imagine, practise critical thinking and use their brain on their own and because they want to.
A teacher once said to me “it is my responsibility to ignition their brain” and as Fröbel said “Protect the new generation: Do not let them grow up into emptiness and nothingness.” Work with creativity has a long history in Icelandic preschools and the newest technology has widely been part of the process, therefore I think the ideology of makerspaces fits well with the work in Icelandic preschools.