Wednesday, July 8, 2020
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Sec. Ed. talks about maker spaces in Baltimore

Acting US Education Secretary John King told a Baltimore audience today that projects in which kids build things, such as computer games that require nothing more than a device or model houses that require a 3D printer, inspire them to learn and imagine, the Baltimore Sun reports.

He was at a workshop created by the nonprofit Digital Harbor Foundation to highlight “maker spaces”: “What an amazing place this is,” the Sun quoted him as saying. “It’s incredible to think that this was once an abandoned rec center.”

In 2013, the Digital Harbor Foundation, dedicated to fostering learning, creativity, productivity, and community through education, transformed the closed-down rec center in Baltimore City into a technical center for youth. The following year, they launched the “Center of Excellence,” which trains educators and community members how to use maker spaces in their own learning environments.

Mr King also used the opportunity to call on Congress to reauthorize a program for career and technical education (CTE, not to be confused with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the debilitating football injury to the brain, which would be a bad thing).

“It’s time for Congress to reauthorize the Perkins Act so that every student, in every community, has access to rigorous, relevant and results-driven CTE programs,” he said.

Congress approved the Carl D Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act in 2006, and with it, $1.1 billion a year is available to schools to teach skills such as coding, computer science, nursing, manufacturing, and other career-oriented subjects.

“CTE is not just about preparing some students for successful lives and careers,” he said. “It’s about giving all students the tools to shape our future.”

This workshop was one of several developed by the Digital Harbor Foundation, including one centered specifically on computer games and maker spaces. The foundation isn’t bashful when it comes to why they hold workshops like this:

One of the ultimate reasons for integrating these elements into the classroom is to create more future coders. The programming principles and mechanics that this workshop covers can be the first step for educators interested in setting their youth for a future programming pathway.

In addition to the skills they develop in their teaching methods, CTE educators who attend the workshops take with them an Interactive Games Starter Kit and gain access to additional resources that build on the base skills from the workshop. “Now is a fantastic time to integrate game design into the classroom, as it is a medium that is rising in popularity with several possible career paths and deep educational potential,” the foundation writes.

Mr King also took the opportunity to discuss the remaining year of the Obama administration and his plans for the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. Congress should be able to pass an updated version of the Perkins Act, he said, and the administration wants the new version to include a few specific steps:

  1. Match employer expectations
  2. Collaborate with K-12, higher ed and industry
  3. Hold schools accountable for academic and employment outcomes
  4. Innovate at the local and state levels

As a general rule, the plan—and remember, it’s still just a general plan—looks good. But the devil’s in the details. How exactly will the feds hold schools accountable for employment outcomes? Are our CTE programs now to be subject to massive data collection efforts? Is that what we want or what the administration is seeking?

Remember happiness?

Furthermore, although I’m a big fan of partnerships, especially those between communities and schools and those between communities and students, we have to remember that happiness and success are concepts that have very personal meanings for each individual student. Whenever we start talking about employer expectations, we can’t lose sight of our schools’ primary mission, and we can’t forget that not one single kid conforms, completely, to a set of standards by which we’ll choose to hold our schools accountable, especially when those standards include collecting tracking data on employment outcomes.

But I give the administration credit for recognizing that an education in academic subjects is unhelpful if it doesn’t lead to success and happiness in adult life. We just can’t forget that some kids really are interested in literature, in sculpture, and so on. That’s what it’s like to be a kid. Of course, we also need to consider how some kids’ families have fallen apart, leaving young people to play the roles of adults. We want those kids to be happy, too.

“We’ve come a long way from what we used to refer to as vocational education,” Mr King said. “Today, every job that leads to a secure future requires critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity, as well as some postsecondary education or training. The best CTE programs help students prepare for this future once they graduate from high school.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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