Category Archives: Blog

Definitions, slogans, and making

Some of the most common things I hear from people who are interested in my work on making and maker pedagogy:

“That’s great! I’m a maker too”

“I do crafts such as . . . ”

“I have an engineering background and I’ve always thought . . .,”

“I do [Insert name of thing or process here], does that count?”

My response: It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters how you want to identify, and what part(s) of maker, tinkerer, craft, and arts cultures you wish to identify with. I am of course happy when someone finds resonance with my work on maker pedagogy, but it is always important to remember that I am but one of many voices interested in these matters.

My response changes a little bit, however, when it comes to the academic literature on making (and its links to “STEM”, a term that I don’t particularly care for–but that’s for another post). When terms or phrases such as making, maker, makerpedagogy, maker spaces, or maker classrooms are used in a research paper, an opinion piece, or as a part of professional development, they often assume that the reader will understand what is meant by each term.

I urge you to define what you mean by terms that you use for writing about your work in making. My enthusiasm for definitions is not because I think that there is a “correct” definition, or because I think that my definitions are an all-encompassing way forward. There are any number of ways that terms commonly used in the maker literatures and cultures can be defined and understood, and so I think we ignore definitions at our collective peril–we risk talking across purposes and misunderstanding one another. 

An interesting case study comes from the idea of science literacy. Relatively few people are aware that the term had its origins in a 1958 issue of Educational Leadership; it was a call to action for science education in the United States after the perceived humiliation of the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik a year prior (see Hurd, 1958). The concept of science literacy started, in my view, as a slogan. Noted science education professor Doug Roberts, writing 25 years later, noted that science literacy had come to be nearly synonymous with just about every idea in science education; it meant everything and so it meant nothing (Roberts, 1983). Fast-forwarding slightly, we find similar confusion about science literacy and scientific literacy. STEM debates share similar features–if you don’t agree, I challenge you to do a quick search for the term STEM online and consider the conflicting concepts you encounter.

My point is not to suggest that there isn’t useful research within the domains of science literacy, scientific literacy, and STEM. Of course there is. My purpose is to call attention to the danger of what is known as shallow consensus around anything that has become reified as a slogan. Precise definitions, stated clearly, can help us steer these turbulent waters. At the very least, definitions help the reader to situate their understanding relative to what the author is trying to communicate.

The way I use the term maker is probably different from the way you use the term maker. In fact, I’m still trying to work out what I mean by the term. Some of my current thinking is being informed by both the history of hacking and the history of the Arts and Crafts movement. Again, you don’t have to agree–but hopefully you’ll know what my starting points are when you read my work. 



Hurd, P. D. (1958). Science literacy: Its meaning for American schools. Educational Leadership, 16(1), 13-52.

Roberts, D. A. (1983). Scientific literacy: Towards balance in setting goals for school science programs: A discussion paper. Ottawa, Ontario: Science Council of Canada.

Sharing some news

Dear all,

Effective  1 September, 2017, Dr. Shawn Bullock will be taking up an academic position at the University of Cambridge, U. K. Shawn is looking forward to this opportunity, and is grateful for the experiences he has had over the last five years at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.

Shawn will be largely unavailable over email for the month of August, 2017. The best way to reach me continues to be : shawn(at)shawnbullock(dot)ca.

Do you think about the materiality you ascribe to objects in the world around you? For example, do you work with objects in the ways that they were designed, or do you feel that you can shape your use of objects in different ways that they were intended to be used? The materiality you attribute to objects implies that you have a philosophical assumption about the way the world works.  Your philosophical position influences how you learn, how you teach, your conceptions of knowledge, and how you study the world around you.

Four major philosophical assumptions about how people see the world (reality) can give us some insight into how people view the materiality of making.  As you read the short oversimplified snippets below, think about where you situate yourself and where making may be positioned.

  1. Objectivist and realist views of the world are constituted by a reality that exists independently of human conception and understanding. The assumption is that reality exists through properties and relations between objects. For education, this means that learning is the recreation of correct behaviors expected in the world and the focal point is on the mastery of knowledge.
  2. Idealists and rationalists define reality as shaped by the mind. Kant would suggest that ideas are the only certainty. There is an emphasis on reasoning over sensing things when aiming to understand the world, and intellect and deduction are important criteria. For education, this means that changes in thinking, not changes in behavior, are the focal points of learning.
  3. Relativists disapprove of absolute reality and subscribes to the belief of socially and culturally constructed truths. For education, this means that learners’ opinions and experiences support the development of their reality and meaning is dependent on experiential contexts.
  4. Pragmatists discard dualist thought and reject notions of rationalism over empiricism or objectivity over subjectivity. Pragmatists operate in the middle ground and are interested in how philosophical orientations can support a situation of interest. Reality is viewed as dynamic and dependent, and knowledge has practical significance in the place and moment of use. For education, this means that knowledge serves as an action plan for the types of practical uses it aims to achieve.

The materiality of making is a worthwhile consideration when embracing a maker pedagogy approach in teaching and learning. The materiality of making, essentially its distinct principles as described by Bullock (2016) are:

  1. Ethical hacking: Deconstructing existing technology for the purpose of creating knowledge (e.g., taking an old computer apart to learn about hardware, and applying that knowledge to work with small hobby computer kids such as Raspberry Pi).
  2. Adapting: Using technology for purposes other than what it was originally intended for (e.g., using an old smartphone to learn elements of computer programming).
  3. Designing: Selecting and using technological artefacts and ideas to solve problems (e.g., using conductive tape, batteries, and LEDs to design decorative circuits that can be integrated into clothing).
  4. Creating: Archiving contextual knowledge obtained through engaging in the process of making (e.g., creating a wiki that documents how particular projects were accomplished) and, of course, enjoying the actual tangible products that come from making (e.g., playing a video game that was designed within a maker space) (p. 12).

I would suggest that the philosophical perspectives of relativism and pragmatism are useful ways to think about the materiality of making. This suggests a belief in having a deep understanding of the objects in the world through knowing how they work so that you can change and shape them for future uses.

What does this mean for education? From a teaching and learning perspective this translates to giving students agency, wherein their capacity to act on objects and technologies rests in the belief that the relationship between learning and the objects are malleable. In this way, the design of objects is not deterministic, but shaped by the environment, which offers potential for different uses of objects and diverse learning opportunities.


Bullock, S. M. (2016). Digital technologies in teacher education: From mythologies to making. In C. Kosnik, S. White, C. Beck, B. Marshall, A. L. Goodwin, & J. Murray (Eds.), Building bridges: Rethinking literacy teacher education in a digital era (pp. 3–16). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.


“Making” as a catalyst for reflective practice

We are pleased to announce to publication of ‘Making’ as a catalyst for reflective practice, published in the journal Reflective Practice. The results present data from teacher candidates who participated in a several maker experiences in our Maker Pedagogy Lab (MPL).

The abstract:

Within the research and teaching program of maker pedagogy(TM), this study analyzes how teacher candidates construct knowledge about teaching and teaching with technology. The study applies an experiential-intuitive framework of reflective practice and takes cues from critical thinking to analyze the participants’ interactions in a maker pedagogy lab. Schön’s conception of reflection drove the data collection and analysis of participants who were asked to reflect on their experiences gained in the maker pedagogy lab. The researchers argue that the maker pedagogy lab provides participants with a way to understand their teaching practice. The results demonstrate that the maker projects enabled teacher candidates to engage in exploratory and hypothetical talk about how they are thinking about teaching and learning, particularly with technology. Furthermore, the researchers uncovered that teacher candidates’ prior knowledge and frames of reference affect their making experiences and their developing identities as science and technology teachers.

A special note and thank you to Andrea J. Sator, a current doctoral student in SFU’s Educational Technology and Learning Design program, who led the development of this article.

Citation information:

Sator, A. J., & Bullock, S. M. (2017). Making’ as a catalyst for reflective practice. Reflective Practice. Online first edition:

Digital technologies in teacher education: From mythologies to making

building-bridgesI am pleased to announce the publication of a new book edited by Clare Kosnik, Simone White, Clive Beck, Bethan Marshall, A. Lin Goodwin, and Jean Murray entitled Building bridges: Rethinking literacy teacher education in a digital era.

This book emerged from presentations made at a working conference in London in 2014. I was honoured to be a part of both the conference and this book. My own chapter provides a conceptual overview of some of the tensions and challenges of the concept of digital technologies in teacher education. It concludes with some ideas from my Maker Pedagogy project.

Sense Publishers always provides a free preview of the first chapter of books that it publishes, and that means anyone can download my chapter for free by clicking here.

My sincere thanks to the editorial team for their hard work and particularly to Clare Kosnik for inviting me to be a part of her research into digital technologies several years ago, even before this project started. You should check out her blog at:

Bullock, S. M. (2016). Digital technologies in teacher education: From mythologies to making. In C. Kosnik, S. White, C. Beck, B. Marshall, A. L. Goodwin, & J. Murray (Eds.), Building bridges: Rethinking literacy teacher education in a digital era (pp. 3–16). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.


Maker Pedagogy at CSSE 2016

We were pleased to present some early results regarding data from teacher candidates who participated in the Maker Pedagogy at CSSE 2016 in Calgary, AB.

We presented in a session sponsored by the the Canadian Association for Teacher Education (CATE) and are grateful to all who attended. Our abstract:

The study applies experiential-intuitive frameworks on reflective practice to analyze the participants’ interactions in a maker lab. Schön’s (1983, 1987) conception of reflection drove the data collection and analysis of participants who were asked to analyse their experiences gained in our maker lab. We argue that the maker lab provides participants with a way to understand their teaching practice by enabling teacher candidates to engage in exploratory and hypothetical talk about how they are thinking about teaching and learning, particularly with technology. Furthermore, we uncovered that teacher candidates’ prior knowledge and frames of reference affect their making experiences and their shifting identities as developing science and technology teachers.


Maker Pedagogy at AERA 2016

We were pleased to make our first public scholarly presentation about Maker Pedagogy at AERA 2016 in Washington, DC.

We presented in a session sponsored by the self-study of teacher education practices SIG and are grateful to all who attended. An excerpt from our paper:

Although the maker movement has become a part of the popular technological zeitgeist in recent years, it remains under-researched. A significant part of understanding pedagogies of making, in our view, will be to describe and interpret how our own pedagogies of teacher education are challenged by a focus on making things with future teachers. We see this paper as the beginning of an important conversation about not only the role of the maker movement in teacher education, but also the utility of self-study methodology to unpack its pedagogical features.


Maker pedagogy and science teacher education

We are pleased to announced the first publication from our research program, published in a special issue of the Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies. The piece is conceptual and considers some of the opportunities and challenges to adopting what we have defined as maker pedagogy in science education.

We are committed to publishing a portion of our work in open access format and are pleased to state that the article is freely available at:!v13-1-bullocksastor/cut

The abstract:

Making is a process that people engage in to design, create, and develop things that are of value and use to them personally or for their community. The recent popular (and sometimes commercial) Maker Movement is rooted in making and traces its lineage from a variety of historical precedents, including ancient traditions of arts and crafts fairs, tinkering and inventing using analog technologies, and hacking and programing with digital technologies. So-called “Maker Spaces” often function as co-ops that allow people to come together to build things, share expensive tools, and learn skills from one another. In this article, we will use the maker movement as a catalyst to reveal both some perennial challenges of and potential ways forward for curriculum studies of science and technology teacher education. In particular, we suggest that maker pedagogy, an approach to working with teacher candidates drawing from principles in the maker movement represents a potentially useful way forward in engaging teacher candidates in thinking about curriculum and working with students.

Citation Information:

Bullock, S. M., & Sator, A. J. (2015). Maker pedagogy and science teacher education. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 13(1), 61–87.

What drives knowledge and learning?

I was so fortunate to attend Vancouver’s Maker Faire on June 6, 2015 and what an inspiration it was! Walking into this well-organized event I was instantly enthused by the vibe. People were happy, conversation was abundant, and making connections came naturally. I certainly wasn’t a networking event! I witnessed in a short time the sharing of knowledge, gained quick access to information, and resources were plenty. Little energy was spent at the Maker Faire on selling, rather the showcase of innovation rose to the forefront and everyone was willing to share their knowledge, all you had to do was ask a question to spark the Maker ethos.

This experience got me thinking about knowledge and how it is created, developed, and disseminated. Let me narrow this blog by talking about the development piece. Knowledge appears to fall into some readily identifiable categories such as 1. wanting knowledge, 2. needing knowledge, and 3. having knowledge.

Testing myself on these categories and watching them play out at the Maker Fair, it appeared that my “need of knowledge” (due to a lack of knowing something specific) drove my “want to know,” and lucky for me,  in this Maker Space, there was an abundance of those who “had the knowledge” I wanted. Does the “want for knowledge” appear to be the most significant factor? And what might this say for educators?

The typical type of knowledge disseminated in the classroom comes in a declarative form, which is largely facts and the theoretical background. If learners are lucky, we can get some hands on experience with the declarative knowledge through procedural knowing via experiences and hands-on-activity. It could be suggested that the experience with something much drive the “need to know” and as such, is integral to learning.

But what’s different about experiencing something through learning-by-doing as described above and experiencing something through Making? I think it’s the “want to know” piece. In traditional classrooms, the “need to know” experience is created by the educator, but may not be as authentic as the “want to know” I experienced in the Maker Space. Would you agree?

Why is this important? I think it’s because the learner’s desire and want for knowledge creates an enthusiasm for deep learning. This then determines what they need to know subsequently allowing the learner to seek the knowledge from those (perhaps experts) who have it.  We can deduce that the Maker Space supports the type of learning environment that educators might aspire to create for the acquisition of knowledge.


Joining the Maker Movement

People engage with the Maker Movement in many ways. Some read about it, some attend events, others watch it happen. Yet, gaining real access is simple once the premise of doing-it-yourself is implemented. You can easily join the Maker Movement just by making or modifying something, and even better as Mark Hatch would suggest, is to make something and give it to someone. The process of giving a personally crafted artifact to someone is significantly different from purchasing a gift as it’s tied to emotion and personal transformation (Mark Hatch).

You might be wondering how you can gain access to and/or join the Maker Movement. This list below gives you some options and resources for getting involved and sustaining the Maker Movement.

Have you thought about how your existing skills, knowledge, and talents can be used to ‘design, adapt, hack, and create’ (Bullock, 2014)’?