What’s In A Name?

Have you ever said a word over and over only to have it sound so strange to your ear that you wonder if you are in fact pronouncing it correctly or if it is in fact a word at all?  Lately, while immersing myself in education articles, books, and conferences covering every currently hot topic imaginable, I have had this experience more than once.  Sometimes I think that educators believe if they just use the same word over and over again actual change will occur without any actions being taken to make it so.  It’s as if the words are a magical incantation that when said in just the right way or with just the right tone can make all our educational problems disappear.

What troubles me about this is not that the latest trends don’t offer real solutions, it is that those solutions are being lost and squandered.  Instead of doing the hard thinking and hard work that it takes to make those potentially great ideas a reality, we just talk and talk and talk.  The more we talk, the less the words mean.  An obvious example is, of course, the phrase “21st century learning.”  In 2000, it made sense to talk about how 21st century learning should be and would be different than 20th century learning.  The problem is that it is now 2013, we are into the 2nd decade of the 21st century, and we are still talking about it like it is brand new or not yet here.  Guess what?  It’s here, and we are living it.  Has it lived up to its hype?

Similarly, I see great potential in the “Maker Movement,” but if I am honest, I would not be surprised if it does not live up to its potential.  Sylvia Martinez, a big name in the movement, recently commented in a Tech and Learning article, “I realize the attraction of always searching for the “new new thing,” the magic wand that will fix all problems.  I don’t believe that the Maker Movement is a magic wand.  I hope it doesn’t get turned into a buzzword.  Maybe we can talk more about how to make sure the hype doesn’t overwhelm the promise of the Maker Movement in schools.”  I was so thankful to see this comment at the very end of the article because at least it’s a start, an acknowledgement of the possible pitfalls.

One way to make sure that something as potentially good as the Maker Movement doesn’t end up a mere buzzword is to put more time into (gasp!) planning.  In the article, the 3 key areas that Martinez sees as places for schools to begin with the Maker Movement are robotics, programming, and 3-D printers.  On the one hand, I was happy to see that my school is working on all 3 components currently.  On the other hand, my worry is that we will throw a 3-D printer or some robotics into a room or with no plan of action, no systematic way to make and measure our goals for these tools and programs.  If we do this, we can repeat over and over that we are a part of the Maker Movement all we wish, but in the end, it’s just a name.

P.S.  In thinking about this post, a scene from the movie The Princess Bride also came to mind.  Enjoy!

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