Eduporium Weekly | The Makings of Modern Maker Education
What are some of the things you think of when you think of maker education? MakerEd includes everything from informal constructive play with everyday objects, glue, and tape to large-scale 3D printing and digital fabrication. Modern makerspaces and fab labs have become the place to be for creative-minded students to showcase their making talents and thousands of schools have responded by building in-house areas for making. As maker education continues to evolve, so too do the tools, the mindsets, and the finished products students are creating. So, what makes modern maker education such a powerful force in K-12 education and beyond?
Maker Education for All Ages
The simple act of engaging in making is immediately beneficial to students in a number of continuously rewarding ways. Almost by default, the making process stirs the imaginations of students and helps them transform from consumers to creators. When they’re making, kids are bringing life to products and concepts that were formerly just ideas in their minds. One of the biggest reasons maker education has become so popular and prevalent is because of its connection to STEM education. Students of all ages need as much STEM as they can get and the tinkering, crafting, collaborating, and problem solving that comes with maker education helps them achieve just that.
Knowing some of the facts about maker education helps teachers see it as something that can be integrated in any grade level. Early elementary learners might be using low-tech tools while high school and college students are able to use powerful machinery to execute their making. Despite the noticeable differences, these are both forms of making and both are very beneficial for the students in the different age groups. Maker education is a way for makers, whether they’re students or professionals, to bring their ideas from the makerspace to the market. The end goal of the Maker Movement is for the makers to profit in some way from their innovative design. When students of any age realize this is possible, the possibilities of maker education get that much more exciting. ‘
As you may have guessed, the chance to become a maker can start as early as first or second grade depending on the tools and programs schools have in place. Makerspaces offer the best opportunities for students to start making, but teachers can also incorporate the creative aspects of maker education into other daily subjects. If teachers are teaching their students how to think like a maker, they too will enjoy the benefits this cutting-edge learning style provides. A maker mindset allows teachers to better lead students of any age and empowers them to explore making themselves! Whether it’s a formal initiative in your school or not, the need for the skills gained from making is increasing and the real-world relevance is constantly multiplying.
Supporting Maker Education District Wide
To put it simply, an expanded presence of maker education in K-12 schools starts with a commitment from teachers and principals. There’s no doubt that the Maker Movement has gained an incredible amount of momentum in the last few years both in and out of education, but in order to successfully make it a regular part of the school day, everybody has to be on board. We see all the time that when school leaders feel strongly enough about a concept or program becoming a part of the curriculum, implementation comes from the district level and is blanketed across each of the schools in the district. The same can be said for maker education; it takes a strong determination and commitment to give students the everyday opportunity for making to be part of their educational experiences.
Bringing maker education into the classroom certainly requires effective teamwork, but it also requires teachers having the right mindset. In fact, having the right mindset is probably even more important than having the physical space to allow for making. The essence of maker education lies in teachers empowering their students to make something meaningful and then observe the impact their work has on everything and everyone around them. In order to create these kinds of conditions, teachers need to work with students and promote things like risk taking, creativity, collaboration, and reflection throughout the making process. As far as methods, teachers need a vote of confidence from their administrators to try these new approaches, which will help them see a correlation between making and standards. This can be done by infusing elements of problem solving, tinkering, and more into staff meetings so teachers can get a feel for the experiences of their students.
Successful initiatives also benefit from teachers attending the same PD. This gets everybody on the same page and gives educators ideas for creating and sharing makerspace projects. PD can even be done in conjunction with local colleges or organizations so that all makerspace teachers within a district can see what larger-scale making looks like. Finally, instituting profitable MakerEd programs requires leadership at each individual school once the district-wide learning is done. Schools could look into bringing on a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) to help guide educators and students through making. Once that’s all taken care of and teachers are ready to start making in the classroom, they’ll have to pay careful attention, make keen observations of how everything is going, and bring what they learn back to their district leaders so it can be fine tuned for the following school year! Piece of cake, right?
Taking MakerEd Further with Coding
Maker education affords kids with a number of innovative learning opportunities that help them build skills that are useful for the future. Now, educators are realizing that makerspaces are the perfect place to help kids build another crucial skill - coding. Since they’re completely open-ended, students are able to combine making and coding by adding this crucial element to the objects and devices they build. So, now, they’re able to still craft DIY devices, but it’s becoming increasingly common for students to then be able to control their crafts through coding. Any EdTech tool that combines making, engineering, technology, and coding is something you want to add to your makerspace.
Makerspaces are the perfect place for students of any age to combine physical building with basic coding so that they get the best of both worlds in an educational environment. In fact, most of the tech tools that are designed for this purpose contain guided projects for kids to complete step by step right in the makerspace. And, if they don’t, we probably have an activity you can download on our website! Even though products that combine making and coding tend to take longer since kids are generally building the projects from scratch, the process is much more involved. It’s here that they’ll learn they can build physical objects and then, using simple technology, code them to do whatever they desire!
Another reason making and coding go so well together is because of the variety of objects kids can control through code. They can control anything from robots to LED’s due to the flexibility of STEM kits that have been built for this exact reason. If you want an awesome maker experience, for example, try finding a kit with circuitry components, like breadboards, that can be manipulated with code. Making with tools like this also affords kids with the chance to work with things like light and temperature sensors and sound triggers, which are useful for them to know how to control. In some cases, students may need to download coding software, but generally in the early grades, all they need is what comes in the box and they’re ready to combine two of the most important areas of modern learning into an interactive experience.
Crafting Professional Development for Maker Educators
In order to provide meaningful maker education that will help prepare today’s students for the future, those leading this learning need to know what to do and how to do it. A good place to start is to transform school libraries into active makerspaces, but that requires training teachers and them putting in a lot of time as well as learning how to alter their teaching styles to supplement this kind of learning. Once they know how to leverage maker technology, use the makerspace to their advantage, and facilitate collaborative projects, teachers are able to teach things to students that the curriculum often cannot. Professional development often teaches educators how to teach students in the 21st century, but innovative, maker-focused teacher PD should be teaching them how to teach kids things like problem solving, working in groups, dealing with failure, and leadership.
First and foremost, maker educators need to understand that adding making to the curriculum is done because it provides students with context for what it’s like to solve real-world problems by using a creative process. It’s also important that they lead productive making, especially as students get older. While it may be fun for students to design shiny projects, this doesn’t translate to real-world learning. Ideally, teachers should aim to find ways for makerspace projects to create learning across multiple disciplines. If they can highlight both a science concept and an English concept through a makerspace project, for example, then that is a valuable use of time. Essentially, teachers need to leave the PD with the understanding that students must get something meaningful out of the making process and they must help create that meaning.
MakerEd professional development should focus on the making process, highlight creativity, facilitate hands-on learning, and include reflection. At the same time, teachers should begin to realize that there are a number of ways to connect making to other subjects. When teachers know how to do these things well, they can pass the knowledge on to their students as they lead by example in the makerspace. As far as PD activities go, something good to include in the sessions is getting familiar with maker lingo, like invention literacy, design thinking, and tinkering, for example. Teachers also seem to greatly benefit from playing with maker technologies themselves, a form of PD we’ve seen be very successful. Finally, teachers can finish up by creating a makerspace lesson plan that highlights the important concepts covered in the PD so they come full circle and see the results of their hard work in action.
MakerEd Helps Make Learning Fun Again
Raise your hand if you went through school with the mindset that anything that involved learning was not going to be fun. That’s, unfortunately, how a lot of today’s students still feel. From a young age, children begin to associate school with work (often meaningless work) and work with boredom and/or frustration. So, naturally, it doesn’t take long for them to associate school with boredom and/or frustration. Maker education, however, has been on a path to revamping the feelings students have towards their education - in pretty much all positive ways. With the opportunity to shake things up and make things personal, MakerEd has had a large-scale effect on a number of students, teachers, and even on the cultures of schools and districts. All it takes is a little bit of an open mind and a lot can go right when embracing MakerEd.
One of the reasons maker education is so popular among students is that it no longer limits them to the classroom. They can take learning into the hallway, down to the library, outside to the playground, and even all the way home! In fact, teachers should emphasize the mobility that MakerEd enables, stressing to students that they do not need to complete projects only in the classroom. Oftentimes, they are able to focus better in a new environment and their environment at home could prompt brand new ideas and avenues for them to explore. This is true for teachers, too. They don’t need to spend hours in their classrooms after school trying to come up with the perfect makerspace lesson plan. Go home - go outside, even - and let your creativity take over! The more ideas teachers can come up with outside the classroom, the more inspiration they will have inside the classroom since, more than likely, they’ll enjoy the brainstorming process a bit more since it’s not quite as associated with work.
Above all else, maker education is about eliminating the fears of failure and of trying new things. It empowers students to pursue things they genuinely want to create - not something a decades-old curriculum dictates they must master. Whether makerspace learning takes place during the school day or after school, every teacher should try introducing it to their students. There’s no telling just how valuable this time for open-ended tinkering and discovery can be for kids who learn in different ways. It could lead to a new invention or the unearthing of a love for prototyping a student never knew they had. All it takes is a commitment to making learning fun again and a few attention-grabbing activities to get students started with some authentic and enjoyable learning.
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Image: © We Are Teachers