She Said, He Said: On Makerspaces

LEARN staff figuring out how to make a theremin.

Last year, LEARN started exploring the idea of Makerspaces as a way to increase students’ engagement in school. The idea itself is not new. Originally incubated by hackers and computer tinkerers, Makerspaces have taken hold in communities across the world, as people rediscover the simple human joy of making something with their hands. Admittedly, the kinds of making associated with Makerspaces are usually somehow related to engineering and technology, but a growing contingent of low-tech makers are exploring the intersections between engineering and craft, between art and design. At LEARN, we chose to embrace all forms of making (or Making), and have called our makerspace an Open Creative Space, to honour both high- and low-tech making.

We started off holding Open Creative Space days for our LEARN staff composed of teachers and pedagogical consultants. We figured the best way to learn about making was to… make. Once we had a few Open Creative Space days under our belts, we opened up our offices to local educators from all the English School Boards and the QAIS network to join us in joyful, curious making. A lot of what we discovered about our own process is informing our work with schools and communities. In this post, we discuss our discoveries, from each of our perspectives, in the hope of shining a light on some of the more interesting aspects of making (or Making).

Our Personal Experiences with Making

Sylwia Said:

“The human hand is so beautifully formed, its actions are so powerful, so free and yet so delicate that there is no thought of its complexity as an instrument; we use it as we draw our breath, unconsciously.” – Frank R. Wilson 

If you asked me last year whether or not I was a maker, I would have replied ‘no’. I come from that peculiar generation, in which – although my parents both know how to make things, sew or build or repair – I was not taught these skills myself. As I was growing up, I was surrounded by the pervasive value that making was what you did if you weren’t good at school. Secondary 3 Technology class was where the kids who weren’t good at academic subjects excelled, and I felt complacent in the knowledge that although I couldn’t cut a straight line or use a drill, I could use my brain to get good grades. In the hierarchy of human abilities in my mind at that time, brain trumped hand. Today, I know that the brain and the hand are inextricably linked in the human experience, from the time early hominids developed opposable thumbs and stood upright. In fact, our experience of the world is fundamentally changed (improved) when we engage with the world with our hands rather than with our eyes and ears alone. Babies and children know this. Neuroscientists know this. But somehow, along the way, we decided that our capacity for abstract thought and creativity could be developed using the brain alone, with visual and aural stimuli alone. That not only was this possible, but that it was desirable. Exit the hand.

Chris Said:

Innovative educator, Gary Stager of Constructing Modern Knowledge often says when addressing educators “Less Us, More Them.” The idea being simple, shift agency whenever possible onto the learner. Throughout my career I have found my greatest learning moments with students and teachers have been when I asked an intriguing question or assigned a challenge, and simply stepped back and let the magic happen. However, this morphing mindset from teacher lead subject areas to student based discovery of a multitude of subjects and skills to boot has shown me student learning comes from personal connections, interest and living an experience. This quickly opened up my approach towards students and later teachers, by making students do stuff with their hands, meaningful stuff with a purpose, and saw student engagement erupt in every school I visited. Through well designed, projects, challenges, learning activities, or workshops, like making rockets, building homopolar engines, creating animations, documentaries, complex machines, or circuits, I was easily able to give students back their learning.


Open Creative Space at LEARN

…for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. – Aristotle

Chris Said:

We have been thinking a lot at LEARN about student engagement and ways to support schools grow relevancy from within. Dr Seymour Papert’s Eight Big Ideas Behind The Constructionist Learning Lab helped to inspire our very own Open Creative Space (OCS). In this space, the number one rule is “Make something, learn something”.  What can this look like in a classroom? was our big question. Our OCS is really that open, an incubator for educators! We don’t tell you what to do, we don’t hand out instructions, we don’t demonstrate what we want you to do. What we do is ask questions, provide support, offer a variety of amazing materials to help ideas or projects develop. We talk, we reflect, we collaborate, we learn. This is an uneasy experience for most simply because we are not used to it. Many educators have come through our hard fun space, and at first are slightly overwhelmed with the open ended nature but soon discover once a good question is asked, they are providing with sufficient time, appropriate materials and of course good support real learning kicks in and mindsets change.

Sylwia Said:

The first time I sat down at a table in our Open Creative Space, I was determined. I could do this. I had a buddy, someone whom I felt knew more than I did about programming, about circuits. The table had an overwhelming array of books on it, and I clung to the most obvious-looking one like a drowning person does a life buoy. Books, I understood. Makerspace Lesson One: Seek out the familiar in the unfamiliar. My buddy decided he wanted to make a theremin, a project located about two thirds of the way through the book. Fighting my desire to start at the beginning, I started by following the steps outlined. We had to backtrack of course and consult some of the earlier bits in the book, but in the end we were successful. Makerspace Lesson Two: Know yourself. I’m cautious and a planner. This may not be bold or audacious, but there isn’t only one way to engage with making. As the kids are saying these days: “you do you”. On subsequent Open Creative Space days, I went with the flow, gravitating sometimes toward the things that felt comfortable and sometimes to the things that scared me. What surprised me most was that sometimes the things that felt comfortable turned out to be quite challenging and the things that made me nervous turned out to be easy and fun. Makerspace Lesson Three: Check your baggage. Every OCS day I discover more about how I learn and about how others learn, while picking up some valuable skills along the way.

Above All, A Maker Mindset

We are approaching the end of our second year working in our Open Creative Space and sharing the Maker model with educators. In this journey, we have realized that the most important thing about Makerspaces is not the technology, the equipment, the supplies, the kits, nor even the clever storage solutions (although these have their merits to be sure). The key to successful and sustainable Making is to above all embody a Maker mindset and help others develop one in turn. It is the core belief that we are most engaged in our learning when we make something that will drive the creation of Makerspaces that fit the community from which they emerge.

Curious about Makerspaces, (or ArtHives, Genius Hours and Passion Projects)? There’s no better way to learn about the Maker movement than by living the experience yourself! Once a month, LEARN invites educators to its Open Creative Space in Laval for a hands-on session. Participants engage in the process of making and tinkering, with access to resources, tools, ideas and community. The next session is May 27th. Spaces are limited and tend to go fast. You can RSVP by emailing

For background, you may want to read Susan van Gelder’s posts on Makerspaces and creating for learning.

LEARN’s Open Creative Space online

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2014). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

The Articulate Hand –

Wilson, Frank R.  (1998). The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture.  First Vintage Books Edition.

The Hand book review + free chapter.

Interagir, c’est beaucoup plus que parler!

Collaboration spéciale de Jean Provençal, conseiller pédagogique à la commission scolaire Eastern Townships. Jean a enseigné le français, langue seconde au secondaire pendant plus de 20 ans et a aussi contribué à la rédaction du programme de français langue seconde du Québec. Il partage maintenant ses connaissances et sa compréhension de l’enseignement avec ses collègues.

jeanDans nos programmes de français, langue seconde, la compétence Interagir constitue un élément central et mérite d’être comprise et considérée dans toute son amplitude d’où le titre de cet article, Interagir, c’est beaucoup plus que parler.

Nous avons souvent dans nos classes des élèves qui se débrouillent assez bien en français à l’oral. Lorsque placés en situation d’interaction, ces élèves ont tendance à ne pas faire beaucoup d’efforts, car ils croient savoir interagir alors qu’ils ne font que parler. Voyons à l’aide du programme comment mieux comprendre cette compétence et l’évaluer de façon plus éclairée.

La compétence Interagir touche essentiellement la capacité à échanger spontanément, à l’oral comme à l’écrit. Toutefois, il va de soi qu’échanger à l’écrit de façon spontanée est beaucoup moins fréquent. La compétence Interagir est essentiellement axée sur l’aspect social de la communication et constitue l’élément central du programme de base de français langue seconde, car son développement adéquat permet à l’élève de mieux s’intégrer à la société francophone que constitue le Québec tant sur le plan personnel que professionnel.

Interagir efficacement présuppose une série de réflexions et d’actions que nous devons prendre en considération autant au niveau de l’enseignement que de l’évaluation.

L’élève qui interagit doit :

  • tenir compte des éléments de la situation de communication[1]. Il comprend le rôle de ces éléments (destinateur, contexte, destinataire, message, code, support de communication) et comment ceux-ci ont une influence sur la communication elle-même;
  • être attentif aux propos de son ou ses interlocuteurs pour pouvoir y réagir adéquatement et solliciter leur participation;
  • ajuster constamment ses interventions tant au niveau du contenu que de la forme tout en respectant son intention de communication;
  • manifester un intérêt envers ses interlocuteurs et les valeurs sociales et culturelles qu’ils représentent;
  • bien se faire comprendre et s’exprimer avec clarté et cohérence[2] en portant une attention particulière aux éléments du langage oral.[3]

En tant qu’enseignants, nous avons eu à évaluer à maintes reprises des élèves qui conversaient. Selon la grille d’évaluation que nous avions à notre disposition, nous étions surpris, voire quelquefois un peu outrés, de constater que plusieurs de nos élèves réussissaient malgré le fait qu’ils apportaient peu à l’enrichissement de la discussion. Nos critères d’évaluation accordaient une plus grande importance aux éléments linguistiques aux dépens du contenu du message et de la démarche de l’élève.

Toutefois, il est possible et même souhaitable de favoriser, lors de l’évaluation d’interactions, l’application de deux ou trois critères seulement et en alternance, mettant ainsi plus en relief les forces et défis de chacun. C’est dans cette éventualité que plusieurs de nos élèves soi-disant habiles en français verront soudainement qu’ils ont du travail à faire à plusieurs niveaux pour bien interagirLe Contenu de Formation du programme comme indiqué dans les notes de bas de page offre des pistes d’exploitation pédagogique essentielles qui constituent des ressources que l’élève doit apprendre à mobiliser lorsqu’il interagit.

C’est lorsque l’élève sera conscient de toutes ses actions et qu’il en aura la pleine maitrise qu’on peut vraiment affirmer qu’il sait interagir et non plus qu’il parle. De là la nécessité de lui faire part du chemin à parcourir, de lui présenter des défis raisonnables, de lui donner une rétroaction constante qui met en lumière ses forces et aspects à améliorer afin de développer sa compétence à interagir au maximum de son potentiel.

C’est sur cette capacité à bien s’exprimer et à entretenir des relations harmonieuses avec les gens qui l’entourent que l’élève pourra bien se préparer à la vie professionnelle, s’intégrer et participer plus activement à la société québécoise.


[1] Voir contenu de formation p.168-171  Programme du 1er cycle , p. 34-37 Programme du 2e cycle du secondaire
[2] Voir contenu de formation p.173-176  Programme du 1er cycle , p. 42-49 Programme du 2e cycle du secondaire (Grammaire du texte et grammaire de la phrase)
[3] Voir contenu de formation p. 176  Programme du 1er cycle , p. 46 Programme du 2e cycle du secondaire

Cliquez pour accéder au programme de formation de l’école québécoise.

Visitez notre section sur l’interaction au secondaire: interagir

K is for Kindergarten: Easing into school

This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to the wonderful world of kindergarten.

Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s the time of year when parents of pre-school aged children are thinking of kindergarten, and the Great Transition from pre-school/home to school. I still remember my own daughter’s first days of school in kindergarten. She had attended a great daycare service and I was confident that the transition to school would be seamless. Moreover, I was convinced my daughter would adapt without any difficulty since she already knew her letters, could read and count. What more do you need, right? Wrong. Though she was keen to go to school, that first day she came home tired and overwhelmed. That’s when I realised there’s more to this transition for her than meets the eye and that she would have benefited from a slower and softer landing into the BIG school. She would have been more at ease with a Progressive Entry.

This is when kindergarten teachers stagger student attendance over the first few days of school so that they can give each child more attention. We call it Progressive Entry, but I like to refer to it as part of a Welcoming Entry. It’s meant to help ease the stress of full day attendance in a new school setting, create a strong bond between child and teacher, and set the scene for a successful year.

Welcoming means to greet someone with a positive attitude or simple gestures that make the welcome heart-warming. Registration to preschool, the first step in the child’s admission to school, is in fact the first contact parent and child have with the school. This is where they’ll get a first impression and it’s the first opportunity the school has to make them feel welcomed.

The second opportunity is the start of the school year. These first few days have an impact on the child’s current and future motivation to go to school. For parents, those days often give rise to both pride in their child and uncertainty of what lies ahead for them this year. That’s why it’s important to be very attentive to these two moments of school life. A progressive entry can be part of the things a teacher and school should consider to make the child’s transition to school a success.

A bit of history

Mandatory full time kindergarten was officially implemented in 1997 in Québec with the arrival our new educational program for preschool education. Next year we’ll get to celebrate that 20th anniversary. We’ve come a long way since that first year when many school boards had to scramble to create their kindergarten facilities: adapted rooms, materials, bathrooms, playgrounds and more. The situation was such that the ministry allowed some schools to take as long as 20 days to gradually integrate the children into the school.

The idea of having fewer students, having them come to school for half days or fewer days at the beginning of the year is still something that teachers like to do because smaller groups allow the teacher to observe each child more closely, to interact more personally and to set about creating a bond with that child. For the child, the environment is new, the people are new and the day is more demanding and tiring. The child will profit from a soft landing in the new school environment, whether he/she has attended daycare or not.

Of course we’re no longer talking about 20 days! There are actually provisions in the Basic School Regulation for Pre-school, Elementary and Secondary Education (section 18) that allow schools to implement a gradual entry in preschool while meeting requirements regarding number of hours and number of days: 23.5 hours a week and 180 days out of 200 devoted to educational services (sections 16 and 17). That was originally a problematic requirement and a hindrance to implementation. But now, the first school days of the school calendar for children in preschool education can be used to allow them to enter school gradually. To simplify matters, each day or partial day used for gradual entry to school constitutes the equivalent of one day of class in the school calendar devoted to educational services.

So, in a nutshell, progressive entry is something teachers and schools can consider, both from a legal and educational perspective, when they plan their welcoming strategies at the beginning of the school year. As a parent, knowing that this option is available would have been a load off my mind.

Flickr, Nikita, CC BY 2.0