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Creating an Innovation Feast Through Makerspaces

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January 12, 2015 05:15 pm


The following guest blog post comes from Rebecca McLelland-Crawley one of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Project 24 Team of Experts. She is a Gifted and Talented Facilitator and STEAM educator for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey

When I think about teaching as a profession, I think of the artfulness that exists in the kitchens of culinary geniuses. There is an entire network devoted to those of us who salivate over what is possible in the kitchen. I often wonder how can I use the same raw materials to make an epic meal. Sure, there may be a recipe as a guide, but we all use our creative juices when it comes to creating the final delectable delights. For me, I have found some inspiration for my classroom kitchen in the maker movement.

There is a very strong chance you have heard something about maker education. You may have noticed advertising for fablabs, makerspaces, hackerspaces, and maker camps. The maker movement is not new, but it has made a resurgence in schools in recent years. It is constructivist in nature, where students are active participants in their learning. On a genetic level, we were made for making. The maker movement appeals to all learners and is not about bubbling in the correct answer on any standardized test. A maker mentality can infuse your classroom by incorporating design elements as a part of long-term problem based learning or as smaller design challenges. It is interdisciplinary and students can construct a scene from a story with Legos or clay in language arts or hack an audio greeting card to build an alarm system to explain circuits for their science class.

I have the pleasure of working with incredibly enthusiastic middle school students who are a part of a maker ambassador program as part of a larger enrichment program within my school district. It gets messy and loud at times, but there is also tremendous intellectual engagement. Not only are they deeply vested in their designs, but also in helping others learn how to transform materials into new products. The makers have found their tribe in my room for the type of enrichment their learning style necessitates. My role of the facilitator of their learning mostly focuses on asking questions and helping them find resources for their longterm maker projects.

Students generate ideas, design prototypes, test them, and go through multiple design iterations. Instead of hitting the proverbial wall and giving up, they just go back and make the changes necessary. Making transcends traditional age structures and often times, my younger students teach the older ones new tricks. The program not only builds their engineering chops, but their resilience as problem solvers. Through this program, the students are the living embodiment of the 21st century skills of creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. This is a recipe I keep tweaking based on the feedback of my students and my peers. I explore the kitchens of extraordinary maker educators and modify things in my classroom often.

There will be plenty you will add to your own recipe, but here are some suggestions if my words have sparked your appetite:

Assess the kitchen:

  • Look at what you already have in your school and classroom. You can quickly amass duct tape, pasta, marshmallows, and Legos by sending requests out to colleagues and parents.

  • Check with your local libraries, museums, and science centers. Many offer workshops on the maker movement and have makerspaces.

Research the cookbooks:

  • Check out the maker resources on Jerry Blumengarten’s Cybraryman site like the Maker Education Initiative.

  • Check out Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez, Zero to Maker by David Lang, and and sign up for Make magazine.

  • Sign up for a free online course, such as the one offered this summer through Coursera on the basics of tinkering by Exploratorium.

Collaborate with master chefs:

  • Expand your maker PLN! Connect with colleagues on Twitter who are using the hashtags   #NationOfMakers, #maker, or  #makerspace for some inspiration and examples. Pop in on Design Thinking chats by following #dtk12chat.

  • Consider writing a grant through your local PTA or Donors Choose for some electronic, robotic, and programming supplies, such as littleBits, BrushBots, solder sets, Arduino microcontrollers, Squishy Circuits, Snap circuits, and Makey Makey boards.

Above all else, our students will remember how we made them feel. Will your legacy be that you made your students feel like innovators? They are the raw material. Ignite their creativity through an incredible maker feast. Bon appetit!

Rebecca McLelland-Crawley is a Gifted and Talented Facilitator and STEAM educator for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey.

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