It’s lunchtime in one of our STEAM/Maker spaces, and the room is full of students tinkering, building, and hacking. Our students have chosen to eat their lunch in the space and use their time to pursue independent projects because the possibilities of creation and collaboration ignite them. These aren’t tasks that are connected to a class assignment or some curriculum mandate–it’s student-driven learning at its finest. Making is happening in our schools, not because some adult thinks it’s important. This is about kids.
Making is a meaningful, hands-on way to cultivate creativity. It allows students to dream up new inventions and create new possibilities. With creativity pushed out of schools for so many years, it is an exciting time in education where we are embracing the individuality and creative strengths of our students.
Our makerspace is fortunate to receive a lot of donations from parents and community members. We receive more than just financial donations, but donations of stuff–great stuff for hands-on making. I remember one morning receiving a call in the office from a parent of one of our students explaining that they had a new refrigerator installed and would we be interested in the oversized box. Sure. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?
That day at lunch, our 5th and 6th-grade students came into the makerspace and practically fought over who would get the box. In the end, a group of four students (who didn’t often work together) decided to collaborate on a project. They planned a playhouse that they would design and give to the kindergarten class down the hall. This was no ordinary playhouse. These students used their collective knowledge of sewing, circuitry, and engineering to create curtains, wallpaper, lighting, and a doorbell. Their structure had several movable parts and accessories that were added later at the request of their clients (the kindergarteners). The opportunity to engage in hands-on making provided the students the chance to develop creativity in open-ended exploratory ways in the makerspace.
Making brings voice and choice to the front and center of learning. When students become engaged in Maker Education (and it is 100% engagement!), the learning becomes personal. They can explore their passions and chase their curiosities. Makerspaces are often filled with a variety of materials from cardboard and duct tape to 3-D printers and laser engravers and everything in between. With all of those options, students can find what feels right to them.
Our student makers run the gamut. Some want to tinker with a new tool each time they visit. One day, coding with Bloxels. The next day working to build a remote control vehicle. Some students find their niche and devote countless days of time and energy on perfecting their craft and becoming an expert in that area.
Mikaela was a master seamstress who honed her skills in the school makerspace. She learned some basic stitching during a parent-led sewing workshop at our school. She began to create aprons, purses, and shirts. She took this basic skill and traveled down a related path as she expanded her sewing to include LED wearables, incorporating circuitry and lights into her designs. Mikaela watched YouTube tutorials and watched videos on the Instructables site (https://www.instructables.com/ ). Making for Mikaela was the way that she learned to express herself and pursue her passions.
Hands-on making offers something for every learner. It doesn’t put limits on students with disabilities or those whose first language isn’t English. It doesn’t stereotype learning for only males or females. From simple to complex, making provides entry points for all students. It’s accessible to every learner. Making is often the place where the sometimes disenfranchised student finds their opportunity to shine.
I remember Zack, a middle school student who had trouble fitting in. Navigating Asperger’s at his age was a challenge, but the school was working with him to build his social skills and establish relationships with his peers. For him, the makerspace was his haven! Zack was an amazing tinkerer and had a knack for robotics. He would spend hours putting pieces together only to redo it the next day increasing complexity and creativity with each iteration. While Zack struggled in other areas throughout the school, he became the resident expert in the makerspace. Lots of our students with special needs, English language learners and those with emotional needs often find their home in a makerspace. Want to learn more about Accessibility? Download the cheat sheet below.
So, how will you create leverage by combining these three ideas?
Making is a must in our schools. Not because makerspaces are fun and engaging, although that is an added bonus. Making provide students with future-ready skills like creativity and collaboration. Maker education invites every learner in and allow each one to explore their passions and develop new wonderings in meaningful, hands-on ways.