Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Maker Movement: More than Cardboard and Duct Tape

I remember overhearing a teacher at a conference say, “What’s the deal with all the cardboard and duct tape? Are we really wanting to prepare students to make low-budget items? Where is the learning?” 

Sometimes, as teachers, it’s easy to hear “makerspace” and “STEM” and simply associate those terms with bins of materials. We see the projects students make and wonder how on earth a teacher has connected a cardboard prototype with the everyday math and reading standards outlined in our curriculum maps.

Consider this idea presented by Richard Riley, Former Secretary of Education, “The top 10 in-demand jobs in the future don’t exist today. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

How can we possibly prepare students for a future like this? 

More than Making a Product

As educators, we must teach students more than content- we must teach them how to think and design. Between attending conferences and tackling my reading list, I’ve come to a better understanding of design thinking and the benefits it can afford our students.

From my learning, the maker movement isn’t so much about the end product that students create, although that’s what we typically think of. Instead, it is about the thinking process they are applying. Students are learning how to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. They have meaningful tasks to collaborate on, and they practice the skills to become effective communicators. They also realize they have what it takes to solve real-world problems.

Children are Makers

Cardboard creations and rainy-day forts are part of so many of our childhood memories, and children today have the same natural drive to create in this way. Expressing creativity through building and making is such a great way for our students to learn by doing.

Have you heard about Caine’s Arcade? Take a few minutes to watch his story and consider all the different thinking processes and content areas he used while making his creation. If you were his teacher, how could you have used his arcade with your content standards?

Where to Begin

I didn’t begin with a designated STEM curriculum, a fancy makerspace, pre-made lessons purchased online, or even a weekly time set aside for these activities. Instead, I began by looking for units in my district curriculum map that would lend themselves to this type of thinking.

For example, each year we investigate the forces related to flight by creating a glider. This year, we created and flew gliders from a provided template. Then used what we learned to design our own gliders. We began with researching other aircraft, followed by a few rounds of rapid prototyping. Finally, we created our own models, tested them, and made revisions. Rather than just using a pre-made design, we critiqued it and tried to improve upon it. My students became the creators, not just procedure-followers. Isn't that what we want our students to be able to do in the workforce?

This semester, my class is beginning to use the Launch Cycle to investigate issues they are passionate about. John Spencer and A.J. Juliani’s book, LAUNCH outlines a student-friendly approach to design thinking. In this process, students learn about a topic or process, ask questions, research to understand and navigate ideas, create a product, revise, and share with the world. Our first project focused on the topic of homelessness. After that, we studied animal cruelty, how deployment affects families, making video games, and how to build a house. 

Curriculum Connection

Rather than thinking, “How can this connect to the curriculum?” I want to challenge you with this thought: STEM, Makerspace and design thinking are just a structure and approach for teaching- not the actual curriculum.

Here is a practical example of teaching content standards while designing and creating:

To begin, my students were able to choose the topic they researched while participating in the design thinking process. Through this process, I also taught my students critical reading skills including summarizing, drawing conclusions, and synthesizing information across tests. My reading lessons followed the gradual-release of responsibility model just like they have in years past, but our learning took on greater meaning. Final projects ranged from presentations and websites to video games and physical prototypes. My students worked with me to determine how they would demonstrate the reading skills they applied throughout their research.

My Next Steps

In the near future, I don't have plans to create a designated Makerspace or accumulate bins of stem materials (although I really like the potential for using Bloxels as it can connect to our gamified classroom). I like the way my students and I are making projects directly related to our coursework. My next step is simply continuing to integrate design thinking opportunities throughout our curriculum. After this school year, I will have a better grasp of designing and making as it relates to our fourth-grade curriculum.

I'd love to hear about your take on Makerspace and STEM. Tell me about what it looks like in your classroom.

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