In August I had the privilege of attending “Invent to Learn”, a workshop for Brisbane Catholic Education staff and teachers, presented by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez. I first heard Gary Stager speak at EduTech 2013 (Brisbane) in early June and found him a most entertaining, inspiring yet challenging speaker – a true champion of “child-centred” and “project-based” learning. Sylvia Martinez is less well-known in Australia but related a fascinating story of her very first full time job, as a graduate engineer on the ground-breaking team which produced the very first GPS system. The concept of a global positioning system was a crazy-wild, pie-in-the-sky type idea at the time, yet many of us now carry one in our pockets in the form of a smartphone.

What wild, crazy, futuristic ideas can your students come up with today, that may one day be a taken-for-granted reality of their daily existence?

Gary and Sylvia are passionate advocates of tinkering with technologies, designing and “making stuff” and present a convincing argument that these endeavours should be an integral part of school life for our young people. They have written a book: Invent to Learn.

“featur[ing] hundreds of links to high-quality books, websites, projects, and other resources to help you create a makerspace in any school, no matter your budget” (Martinez & Stager, 2013).

There’s also a supporting website which is packed with information and resources…

Invent to Learn, by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez, published in 2013 by

Invent to Learn, by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager, published in 2013 by Constructing Modern Knowledge Press

Kay Cantwell (Brisbane Catholic Education, Resource Link), also attended Invent to Learn and has posted about the book on BCE’s Resource Link blog. Her comprehensive post includes a rundown on the many excellent books and online resources that Gary mentioned during his presentation. If you’re at a BCE school, these resources are all available for borrowing from Resource Link. If not, then it’s a good time of year to share Kay’s post with your own Teacher Librarian or Curriculum Support team, ahead of the 2014 budget!

Tinkering to Teach

Invent to Learn, the workshop, brought the book to life with a practical day of discovery learning through tinkering, problem-solving and “geeking out” with colleagues. The event was intensely hands-on. Participants plunged into diverse and open-ended challenges of creation and fabrication at various stations. Tables were set with everything we needed for:

  • building “things” with cardboard and found materials

  • wiring squishy electronic circuits

  • sewing wearable circuits

  • Arduino computing

  • configuring “fruity keyboards” (I kid you not)

  • Lego robotics, and

  • computer programming with Scratch and TurtleArt.

I felt transported to a far distant childhood as I engaged in the hard play of “making stuff”. Gary and Sylvia spoke passionately throughout the day, presenting a convincing case for project-based learning and the global maker movement and impressed upon us the desperate and urgent need for schools to include tinkering, invention, construction and engineering with technologies into everyday classroom practice.

Did I mention childhood? Take a look at this tweet from Gary which demonstrates the childlike excitement (even in the most mature and professional adults!) of making something that WORKS:

Incidentally, if you’re on Twitter, check out #makered for some great ideas and links and access to the global, “maker movement in education” twitter community.

I tried to visit each table and have a go at everything on offer, but my favourite was the soft circuits table. The videos below demonstrate the two soft circuits I made. For an idea of the materials and resources available at other stations, check out the Maker Space resource page on this blog.

The flower was based on one others made from instructions, although I hate reading “how to” sheets and set out on my own. I realised as I met setbacks and unpicked stitches countless times, that this activity was a far more authentic problem-solving experience than any I could find in a book. I had to make sure the positive end of the LED was sewed to the negative end of the battery compartment for example. I had to ensure that my conductive stitches did not contact any other part of the circuit. It was design-make-appraise over and over until I got it working. I can’t wait to try this with students.

The robot was my first attempt so you’ll see a much messier result. I realised that the things I make the kids do – plan in detail first, write your reflection, follow the steps of the design process on the poster etc… weren’t much fun. Like them, I’d much rather dive in and solve things as I go. Sure, I might have to start again with a different prototype, but the process is much more engaging and I could stick with it for long enough to see it through.

The Drive for Tinkering, Making & Prototyping in Classrooms

“Fortunately for educators, this maker movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. The active learner is at the center of the learning process, amplifying the best traditions of progressive education” (Martinez & Stager, 2013).

Some of what Gary and Sylvia have to say will be challenging for more traditional schools and classrooms. I’ve created a Haiku Deck of some of the most significant and memorable ideas (for me) that may help to provoke some healthily disruptive conversations in your school. Click the image below to view the Deck:

"get excited and make things" [CC BY-SA 2.0] by Greg Elin on Flickr

“get excited and make things” [CC BY-SA 2.0] by Greg Elin on Flickr


Inspiration for Inventive Learning

During his presentation, Gary spoke of several leading educators and transformational learning activists that have been a formative influence on his own research and practice. I’ll leave you with these thought-provoking and inspirational words. For who could say it better than these guiding lights in education…?

Angelo Patri:

“Playrooms and games, animals and plants, wood and nails must take their place side-by-side with books and words.”

Seymour Papert:

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”

Jean Piaget:

“When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.”

Paulo Freire:

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

William Glasser:

“There are only two places in the world where time takes precedence over the job to be done. School and prison.”


Where do you find your inspiration?

Do you relate to any of these quotes in particular?

What inspirational decision, ideas or words can you share?


Featured image:kids love squishy circuits” [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] by Nick Normal via Flickr

Collier, A. (2013). Making the future: Why we need to help kids makes stuff. NetFamilyNews.org : Tech Intelligence for Parents.

Martinez, S. L. & Stager, G. (2013). About the Book. Invent to learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom [website].


2 thoughts on “Geeking Out with Invent to Learn

  1. Wow Maria, great post! You have certainly inspired me to follow Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez and keep an eye out for when they are next presenting.
    I have also sent a request through for the book ‘Invent to Learn’ to be purchased as a resource for our teacher’s library. I am passionate about ensuring children are actively engaged in authentic projects, though your post has made me realise that this is something that has been lacking in my program over the last 18mths. With the introduction of the Australian Curriculum and with there being such a huge focus on data of late, I have allowed student driven, authentic tasks such as the ones you highlighted to take a back seat. So, thanks for reigniting my passion!

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