In fact, the idea of "learning by doing" stretches back to education legends Maria Montessori and John Dewey, both of whom felt teachers should act more as guides to students' independent discoveries than as founts of information. Decades of research confirm that making and doing things cement knowledge in ways that lectures can't. "Think about the driver and the passenger in a car," says Adele Diamond, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and one of the founders of the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. "The driver is hands-on and the passenger does what students normally do in class, which is sit passively. The driver will learn the route better because she has to actively use the information."
Making mistakes and trying again and again (and often again) until you succeed also encourages what's now being called a "prototyper's mind," an asset that many experts believe will be key to the 21st century job market, where the majority of careers today's kids will pursue have yet to be invented. "Facts can be looked up," says Diamond. "What students need to be learning is how to reason and problem-solve and be creative. Kids should get rewarded for taking a chance and trying something new and not always have to be so worried about making a mistake."
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects