Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

Fall 2016

In this issue: Bold New Learning Designs

child with school bus
Penelope Peterson

Message from the Dean

Dear Friends,

Two decades ago, I coedited a book about how and where female educational researchers developed their passions for research. In all cases the women described how “learning from their lives” had motivated their work. In my own autobiographical chapter, I wrote about how “learning about learning” had motivated me—I was always intrigued by how people learn and how to improve that learning, both inside the classroom and out. I discussed how much I had often learned by watching my own children grow up and interrogating them about their learning experiences. My children always pushed me to think about new designs for learning and how schools might incorporate these new designs. When he was only 18 months old, my older son, Andrew, started playing an “ABC” game on an Apple IIe computer; his brother Josh, joined him on the computer when Josh was born two years later. Indeed, Andrew and Josh were written up in the cover story of Family Computing magazine with the headline, “Is two too young?” referring to the age at which a child should learn to play/learn on a computer. Now, more than 30 years later, my two-year-old grandson, Benji, has access to iPads, and even iPhones, and applications on these devices provide all manner of new possibilities for learning. Some of these devices have even made their way into schools.

Yet as a society, we remain greatly in need of bold new designs for learning—both in school and out—and that is the topic of this fall issue of Inquiry.

In our lead article, we describe FUSE—an innovative new design to increase learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which began as an after-school program, and having achieved great success, is now exciting students in the school setting. From Chicago to Helsinki, Finland, FUSE is igniting kids’ interest in STEM using principles of video game learning. FUSE specifically targets girls and underserved students who might not normally pursue STEM subjects in schools. Similarly, in a second article, Kai Orton describes how she is taking girls on a path from fearing failure to gaining interest in pursuing learning to code and achieve computational confidence and competence. As in FUSE, the girls in Orton’s computing clubs pursue engineering design challenges, including how phone apps work and how video games are designed. In a third article, David Uttal discusses how “makerspaces” and “tinkering labs” in museums can entice even the youngest child to pursue interests in STEM. Finally, we investigate “digital lofts”—a bold new design that supports collaboration and coordination of learners and tools online so that they might develop their own new learning designs for social innovation.

It’s exciting to imagine how such bold new learning designs as these might spawn a whole new generation of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. While too late for my adult sons to benefit directly, I look forward to seeing my grandson, Benji, and other children of his generation experience this “brave new world” of learning designs. Moreover, we hope such designs will reach schools and infuse them with innovative, powerful possibilities for learning.

Penelope Signature
Penelope L. Peterson, Dean