We’re completely intrigued by the “Make Movement” which is redefining much of the learning terrain inside and outside of schools. The Maker Movement is infused with philosophical bits that we find fit with much of our teaching philosophy: efficacy, problem solving, collaboration, stamina, green sensibility and empowerment.
Much of the Maker Movement celebrates designing and building... just about anything.
You see it everywhere in K-12. Kindergarteners design toys for their friends to practice empathy, while learning to use a saw and glue-gun along the way. Second graders deepen their understanding of character traits while designing and sewing puppets to represent a character in a folk-tale. In high school physics, students make wind turbines in order to internalize an understanding of how magnetism can create electricity.
The “it” I’m referring to is “Making,” and simply put, Making is any activity where people create something, often with their hands.
A lot of the learning within Maker projects is implicit. The materials are easy to find and cache. Outside of the school setting, this type of learning, (tinkering to create be it inspired by whim or purpose), is invaluable. The Maker Movement has a lot to offer educators but we often wonder how this type of work can be best integrated into classroom settings.
When we first began doing our work, we were fairly haphazard: we chose activities that we thought would be highly engaging and activities that also had a science component. As we did more of this work with our students, it became clear to us that the learning needed to be more prominent if we were to help students build on what they already knew and progress. The refinement of our work, especially as we attempt to integrate the Next Generation Science Standards, has helped us see that making in the school environment needs to have a skill set, (both a thinking dimension and a practical component), that lives within every design challenge. In the school setting, there needs to be a resonating curriculum piece if “making” is to endure and be deemed educationally valuable.
Some makers would no doubt take issue with this stance, arguing that students can indeed learn by being completely immersed in doing. We get that. We are backers of constructivist education. But what we’ve discovered is that having a year long picture of our teaching moves, helps us build and solidify skills over time...especially the skills that cultivate a growth mindset.
Making gives students (or anyone, really) an opportunity to find a passion. Additionally, Making provides a context to place academic learning in the “heart, mind, and hands” (a concept championed by 18th century educator Pestalozzi) in pursuit of deepening students’ conceptual understanding of content. A loose translation for today would be that we use Making to focus on learning character traits, content, process, and skills.
With this in mind, we want our design challenges to be flexible, to have room for serendipitous learning and “wow” moments. We also want all of our students to be able to access the learning opportunities and to have a stake in the empathy piece frequently embedded in our design thinking challenges. We’re also aware that practice and endurance are the true keys to transformation and success. By making sure that some components of learning reiterate and grow throughout the course of the annual design experience cycle, we’ve noticed that all students can become a better “maker;” the student who struggles begins, through reflection, to identify when the process breaks down and is able to apply a strategy and become successful. The student with mad skills is able to lean into a challenge that’s unique and innovative. In this way, shining the light on the process is often far more valuable than a “completed” project.
Some schools are taking the Maker challenge seriously and figuring out how to mold the model to encompass various learning objectives, keeping the student always at the heart of the work.
At Lighthouse Charter School, we use three Making-inspired models: open-ended student-driven projects, integration into curriculum, and Making-focused curriculum. While a single project may involve more than one of these models, you can use these categories to start thinking about Making in your own classroom, school, or educational program.
As teachers we find this work incredibly compelling; it’s easy to jump into this work and be inspired fully by the enthusiasm of the students. The more we do this work, the deeper we want to delve in and the more meaningful we want it to be. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what it might look like. Working with intention has actually helped us stash more time for exploration. Once students know that there’s a predictable pattern to the design lab, the more they can engage in the flow, knowing that the launch and the finish will be similar each time.
No matter where you are in your head with the Maker Movement, we encourage you to dip your toe in and get wet. Make something! You might find like us that it begins to change how you think about everything you do.