Teaching Opinion

Response: The Maker Movement Can Give Students ‘A Story To Tell’

By Larry Ferlazzo — February 10, 2014 11 min read
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(This is the second post in a two-part series on The Maker Movement. You can see Part One here.)

Phil Shapiro asked:

How can schools best embrace the Maker Movement to promote inquiry and learning seven days a week?

There has been an incredible amount of interest in what’s called “The Maker Movement” during the past few years, and more and more educators have been exploring how to apply it in their classroom.

Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager adapted a portion of their book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Education in the Classroom, into a piece for Part One in this series.

Today, Tanya Baker from The National Writing Project discusses implications The Maker Movement has for different content areas, National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau elaborates further on its connect to STEM, and Leslie Texas and Tammy Jones make a connection to Project-Based Learning.

In addition, several comments from readers are included in today’s post.

You might also want to listen to a nine-minute podcast interview I did with Sylvia Martinez and Tanya.

Response From Tanya Baker

Tanya Baker is the Director of National Programs for the National Writing Project. She was a high school English teacher in Maine for 12 years and is the author of Strategic Reading: Guiding Students to Lifelong Literacy Grades 6-12. She is particularly interested in teacher networks, professional learning communities and writing in the disciplines:

I became friends with Doug in my second year of teaching. I taught freshman English and coached the speech team, he taught Earth science and ran the environmental club. It wasn’t long after I met him, the first time he pulled out his wallet saying, “Let me show you something.” In this instance it was a 3-D pop-up model of a post-and-beam house he was planning to build. He carefully unfolded it, popped it up so I could see it in three dimensions, and explained his plan for a very small, environmentally friendly post-and-beam that he could construct virtually by himself, and put together with the help of a few friends in an old fashioned barn raising kind of way. In the 20 years that I have known him, Doug has always had a model of a project in his wallet.

Doug has a thousand stories to tell... about geological mapping in the wilds of Alaska, about studying ice cores in Antarctica, about studying rocks in Tibet, all focused on actively exploring the world and making things. In general, the stories I have to tell are different. As a kid I was praised for reading books. We went on vacations where we looked at things: Niagara Falls, the Old Man in the Mountain, the Smithsonian Institute. School reinforced this stance toward the world. “Stuff” was out there that other people had figured out, my job was to learn it.

My stories have often been other people’s stories -- about what I read or what I learned and what I thought about other people’s ideas, discoveries, and makes. Though the language didn’t exist in my vernacular 20 years ago, I have come to understand that Doug is a maker, he doesn’t just look at things, he does things. He doesn’t just learn what other people have already figured out, he figures things out for himself. I have also come to understand that I want to be a maker, too.

Apparently, I am not alone. This past summer, thousands of educators, youth and families participated in the Summer of Making and Connecting, a summer campaign sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and powered by the National Writing Project and the Mozilla Foundation. Focused on exploring what it would mean to teach for innovation and creativity by tapping into the creative thinker and maker in all of us, the summer campaign combined a healthy dose of the DIY maker movement with the principles of Connected Learning and the ethos of webmaking. The Summer of Making and Connecting provided opportunities for educators to engage in participatory learning through collaborations and communities like Mozilla Foundation’s #teachtheweb and National Writing Project’s #clmooc--a massive, open, online collaboration about Making Learning Connected. These connected learning projects gathered people around series of self-chosen “makes” - or projects - that let them share ideas, questions, products and tools with one another via social media like Google Plus and Twitter. #teachtheweb and #clmooc now sustain themselves as communities of practice open to all.

Doug and his wallet are a litmus test for me these days when I ask myself whether something is worth doing with students. I want to know, will this give students something they’ll want to carry around in their wallet and show to other people? Will they own this knowledge in a way that makes them proud to show it off? What have they made or done today that gives them a story to tell -- to their friends, to their families, to the world? If, like me, you are exploring the maker ethos, for yourself or for your classroom, come check out what’s happening in these communities. And start asking your friends, “What’s in your wallet?”

Response From Jeff Charbonneau

Jeff Charbonneau is the 2013 National Teacher of the Year. He is a Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering teacher at Zillah High School, in Zillah, WA. You can follow him on Twitter at @JeffCharbonneau:

I am Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering teacher. That makes me a STEM teacher. But I am also the Assistant Drama Director for our after school drama program and am the advisor for our schools yearbook. That makes me a STEAM teacher (add the Arts). So it should be of no surprise that I love the “Maker Movement”.

Fundamentally, the Maker Movement suggests that kids (and adults) should use all of their skills and talents to make things that are useful to them.

The best part is: making stuff is a lot of fun and is a huge motivator for students!

I have seen several schools that have embraced the Maker Movement. Some of the best strategies I have seen include:

1. Do not focus on the tools or the costs. While 3D printers, laser cutters, and other technology are certainly very useful, they are not requirements of a “Maker Space”. Instead focus time and energy on asking what kinds of objects could be made by students that will promote the learning goals of the class? Remember, the learning goals come first, the tools come second.

2. Making is a personal experience, best done when the Maker has input into what is being made. In other words, keep project definitions open ended to allow student the chance to make something that will be useful immediately in their lives! Try to stay away from template / worksheet style projects as much as possible.

3. Excite the parents and bring them in too! So many parents over the years have said to me “I wish I could have the chance to learn this too”. Many schools are now opening the doors to their STEM/STEAM/Maker classrooms after school hours and inviting parents and the community to join them. The classroom becomes a free-form making environment where dozens of mini-lessons are informally taught by the students to the community members and vice versa.

4. Just start. While having a plan and some details worked out is important, it is even more important to realize that you just need to start. No two schools are alike, and no two Maker schools will be alike either. So throw your idea out there, open the doors, and get Making!

Response From Leslie Texas and Tammy Jones

Collectively, Leslie Texas & Tammy Jones have almost 40 years of classroom experience in teaching STEM subjects in elementary, middle, and high school. Their book series, Strategies for Common Core mathematics: Implementing the Standards for Mathematical Practice, is available from Routledge:

From the founder of the Maker Movement, Dale Dougherty,

“I believe we are all makers. ... Yet we also want to help create more makers. They might find these opportunities at school but also at community centers, summer camps and science centers, or even at home.” (TED Talk - We Are Makers)

What is the Maker Movement? It’s Do It Yourself (DIY) meets Project Based Learning (PBL) meets Technology meets Application. How does all of this make it into the classroom and beyond? PBL serves as the platform upon which students will employ technology using DYI to create the application - a product. The Maker movement incorporates the Six A’s of PBL (Steinberg, 1997). With particular emphasis on the adult relationships, partnering with the Maker Movement extends the project beyond the walls of the classroom into the community. The product becomes the context for backwards mapping to the content being learned in the classroom. This context provides relevance and answers the “So what, who cares?” question students have for why they are learning this. The academic rigor component of the 6 A’s aligns with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and ELA as well as The Next Generation Science Standards. For this reason, educators need to spend a good amount of time in the planning stage of the project.

Finding a product, that can be backwards mapped into a project, may be a good way to introduce the philosophy of the Maker’s Movement to students. Sites such as Instructables and The Make Magazine are good places to start. Authentic projects have an audience and a purpose. Therefore, while you are on the Make Magazine site, be sure to check out the Maker Faire Map to find a location near you where products can be showcased and students can meet others in the Maker Community.

Dale Doughtery’s vision "... is that all people, young and old, come to see themselves as makers, creators and doers because I know that the people who have the skills and knowledge to make things have the power to make the world a better place.”

Responses From Readers

Caroline Raville:

This question is particularly challenging when viewed through the lens of the English curriculum. To me, the best way to incorporate this idea is through authentic, project based writing and via a 20% Time. If the students are using their writing for a purpose, and are trying to get results from it, then they are creating something.

Finally, I believe that a key component of the Maker Movement is the freedom to experiment. It is very easy in English to push the “rules” of writing. However, the spirit of the Maker Movement asks that we let students bend the rules and established paradigms in order to create something new. This can be done in the English classroom!

Jeff Layman:

Instead of asking how we can best embrace the Maker Movement to promote inquiry and learning seven days a week I think we should first ask ourselves if we should or not. Too often our strategy seems to be to observe what students are doing for fun on their own and then take that idea and shoehorn it into school, often with negative results.

The fastest way to kill the creativity kids are cultivating in the Maker Movement is to somehow attach standards, assessments or some other school-related measurement to it. To this end, my suggestion is to start a club and leave it there. Grow it, make it free and accessible to all students, and run for the hills when someone suggests making a class out of it.

Bart Miller:

I believe that the key to promoting inquiry learning and ‘making’ is for schools to welcome students’ independent inquiries by providing time and resources, and celebrating the processes by which people make, create, and co-create. Critical innovations will not be made by ‘mastering content’ alone. Teachers should integrate students’ inquiries with established learning outcomes and standards, so that each student can master content via their own interests and passions.

Several readers contributed comments on Twitter. Here are some of them:

Thanks to Tanya, Jeff, Leslie and Tammy, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind. You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Last, but not least, I’ve recently begun recording a weekly eight-minute BAM! Radio podcast with educators who provide guest responses to questions. You can listen and/or download them here.

Look for the next “question-of-the-week” in a few days....

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.