By: By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the editorial team
Makers create, tinker with old technology, and invent new things. It's do-it-yourself at its best. Maker teachers inspire their students to dream up their own inventions, experiment, fail and experiment again until they've made something personally meaningful. Maker education is a combination of hands-on learning and project-based learning. —USC Rossier’s Guide to Maker Education
You might notice that USC Rossier’s definition of maker learning sounds remarkably like what we at the Kendall Hunt Religious Publishing Division (RPD) love about inquiry learning. And in fact, the two concepts have a lot in common. They both promote self-directed learning, encourage open exploration and questioning, and expand students’ natural curiosity by putting them “in the driver’s seat”.
Educator and technology consultant Trish Roffey makes the connection between inquiry and maker learning even more explicit, explaining that “the maker movement is about teaching and learning that is focused on student-centered inquiry. This is not the project done at the end of a unit of learning, but the actual vehicle and purpose of the learning.”
In short, the learning doesn’t happen because the student has created a project—past tense. It happens when the student is creating a project—present tense. Through hands on learning, like maker learning, a student can work through the subject material while confronting trial and error, building strong problem-solving skills. Maker learning allows students to make their own choices and explore the class material on their own. This can help them make connections that might not have been made through typical class lessons.
Providing students with the time to practice hands on learning allows them to engage in the class material in a way that makes sense to them. Every student learns in a different way, so having many ways the students can practice the material allows for more success. Many learning opportunities in the classroom, especially for new material, can also help shorten the learning gap that was caused by the pandemic. When remote learning was taking place, students couldn’t practice hands on learning or work alongside others. So providing these opportunities in the classroom allows students to build on these skills that may have been lost.
And it’s more than just learning to sew a seam, power a motor, or design a bridge. According to educator and maker space coordinator Christa Flores, “learning through the making of things is constructionism in action.” Students aren’t just making in the physical sense; they’re also making choices and improving their decision-making skills. With no set of directions and no “right answer” for the finished product, making forces students to take responsibility and make their own decisions about materials, process, and problem solving. Making also enhances the student’s ability to take initiative and collaborate with others.
Now that we’ve made our case for maker learning, here’s a list of the basic necessities to start an effective makerspace in your classroom.
1. A space
You need somewhere accessible (no high, unreachable shelves) with a sturdy table and room for at least 3–4 students. Having a space available to multiple people at a time can help enhance collaboration and teamwork skills within the students. Although unconventional, an unused closet can even serve this purpose and can become a “maker lair.”
Depending on the age of your students (and your budget), your supply list will vary. Basics include tape, string, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, and cups, but LEGO sets, circuitry kits, origami paper, and sewing supplies can all find a home as well. Even something as basic as a cut-up cereal box would be useful. USC Rossier offers a comprehensive list based on each grade level. Providing a variety of materials that students might not be used to working with allows them to create something unique beyond what they are used to.
To get those supplies, send a letter home to ask parents and guardians if they have anything “craftable” lying around. Reach out to local stores. Pursue arts and cultural grants. Cheryl Nelson and Wendy Goldfein of Get Caught Engineering also recommend buddying up with school custodians, who can help you find storage locations and can “rescue” potential supplies that other teachers would otherwise have thrown away. This allows you to get the materials needed for little to no cost.
Once you get the supplies, make sure you have a place to put them. Consider empty paint cans, dollar-store bins and baskets, file folders, crates, Tupperware containers, and desk organizers to keep your makerspace tidy. By clearly labeling the storage containers, the students will know where the unused materials go when they are finished, which helps maintain an organized space.
Maker learning is not an excuse for students to have free reign but let them develop the rules with you. This creates a collaborative understanding throughout the class of the expectations. Display a chart of class-developed rules near the makerspace—for example, when will the space be open for use? What are the expectations for cleanliness? How will students communicate the need for supplies to be replenished? How will students’ efforts be evaluated?
6. Curricular connections
It can be hard to connect the makerspace to the curriculum without becoming prescriptive and limiting the creativity of the students to decide how they want to work. One surefire way to connect every project to a learning objective is to establish the precedent that kids need to design a specific and detailed plan before they start “making.” This doesn’t mean, of course, that the plan can’t change midstream, as the ideas present themselves. Having a plan not only limits wasted time and materials, but it also reinforces the always-relevant skills of planning one’s work and helps students practice metacognition. Maker learning is not limited to certain subjects but can be utilized for all classroom topics.
Are you ready to MAKE some changes to your classroom?