What Did You Make at School?

One of the NGL design principles focuses on the importance for students to make and create. The term creating can refer to a broad range of activities, including note-taking, mind-mapping, and essay-writing, but it can also extend to larger projects, such as pulling together skits, simulations, models and podcasts. Any of these and other acts of creating can be meaningful if and when they help learners reach learning goals.

The importance of creating seems intuitive, but when we started asking serious questions about why it is important to create, we decided to dig into what research has to say.

Why is creating important?

Encouraging learners to create is an idea that is backed by constructivist theory (1), as well as constructionism (2,3), an educational method that promotes personalized, discovery-based learning. The process of creating helps learners build connections between new and prior knowledge. Researchers have shown that the process of creating leads to increased engagement in learning (4,5), and builds learners’ skills, knowledge, understanding, and confidence (6).

How do we apply this to NGL?

Based on our research and experience, we’ve come up with a series of core ideas on creating that should be applied to quest design. Quest designers will apply these core ideas to varying degrees in order to provide learners with a variety of creating opportunities.

  • Design creating opportunities that lead to learning goals. While undirected play and making can be productive, learners should purposefully design and create to solve problems and reach intended learning goal(s).

  • Encourage learners to craft tangible solutions to relevant problems, both local and global. Tackling specific, relevant challenges increases learners’ personal expectations, motivation and engagement in the content and skills being explored.

  • Give learners opportunities to create artifacts that have an audience outside school walls. Learning gains new significance when artifacts, digital or physical, are shared beyond the classroom with diverse audiences.

  • Experiment with providing varying levels of structure and freedom. Different quests, mentors and learners require varied levels of scaffolding. More structure may be appropriate for learning unfamiliar skills or concepts, but learners need freedom to make mistakes and seek feedback.

  • Provide collaborative and individual creating opportunities. Collaborative creating teaches learners to express ideas and share skills with others; individual creating allows learners to become better acquainted with their own skills, tools and materials (7).

  • Ask learners to reflect as part of the creating process. Learners create in order to record and reflect upon their thinking throughout the creating process.

As we chew on what these core ideas mean, let’s briefly return to my first question. What did you make at school? Did these core ideas describe that experience?

For us at NGL, these core ideas guide quest design. For example, in the math quest Game Creation!, learners create a dice, spinner or card game that demonstrates their understanding of probability distribution and expected value. After making an original set of rules and materials, learners play their game with peers, who write a short review about whether the game was educational and fun. This is a great example of an opportunity that allows learners to experiment, create, and receive feedback that will help lead them towards achieving learning goals.


1. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

2. Papert, S. (1991). Situating constructionism. In I. Harel & S. Papert (Eds.), Constructionism (pp. 1–14). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

3. Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Constructionism. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

4. Blumenfeld, P. C., Kempler, T. M., & Krajcik, J. S. (2006). Motivation and cognitive engagement in learning environments. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

5. Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59–109.

6. Pahl, K., & Kelly, S. (2005). Family literacy as a third space between home and school: Some case studies of practice. Literacy, 39(2), 91–96.

7. Resnick, M., & Rosenbaum, E. (2013). Designing for Tinkerability. In M. Honey & D.E. Kanter (Eds.), Design, Make, Play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators. (pp. 163-181). New York: Routledge.