Current buzzwords in education are evidence that schools across the country are adopting Maker mindsets that support providing students with the tools for thinking that go beyond academics. As a special education teacher, I see an educational system that is also becoming more accessible to students with exceptional learning styles. Such concepts as: STEAM education, project-based learning, differentiated instruction, inquiry-based instruction, collaborative learning, and student-centered instruction encompass the Maker mindset. Life requires you to problem solve, take risks, innovate, do what you can with what you have, and you have to keep moving forward. When teachers provide students with opportunities for this kind of learning, not only are they are better preparing students for life, they are breaking down barriers.

tallchairSTEM Education has become widely valued across the country for it’s importance not only in education, but for the future success of our country. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are widely accepted as being important to our global future. Sometimes, art gets a place in there and we get STEAM. STEM/STEAM Education is multidisciplinary, hands on, and curriculum based. Multidisciplinary means that students get to bring their different strengths to the table, while also working on weaknesses. Curriculum based is a win for the teacher who has certain educational standards and objectives to meet. I’m personally a fan of the hands on approach, and so are most students. Especially students with extra energy to burn, or students with reading and/or writing deficits. STEM/STEAM educational opportunities represent the Maker mindset at work. So do the many other buzzwords in the field of education.

I get to see education happen through some of the most exceptional eyes in my school. All of my students take at least some classes out in the general education setting, and as a result, I spend much of my day helping students work on other teachers’ assignments. I enjoy providing the needed help and support so that my students are able to participate alongside their peers.

Recently, I was helping a student work on a poster type assignment. Students were asked to use their notes from class, and make a poster demonstrating five different mathematical rules or concepts. At first, I secretly joined in with my student’s frustration over this somewhat vague assignment. We didn’t have a set of instructions or even a rubric. It can be easier for a student to plop a worksheet down in front of me. I can usually look it over, give the student some instruction, and by the end of class we have a finished assignment. Instead, this poster assignment had few set boundaries. You see, a typical worksheets has boundaries, as worksheets tend to be direct and focused. This assignment was more open, but with limited boundaries, comes limited educational barriers for diverse learners.

After my initial uncertainty about how to help this student complete this assignment, I took the opportunity to put my Maker mindset to work. I provided the student with some basic instruction, lots of encouragement, and then let him lose. I was there to provide support, but I had him take ownership of the assignment. He kept asking if he was doing the assignment right, and I would only ask him if he had the correct information written down. He would check it over, and say, “yes”, and I would say, “then it has to be right”. Not only was this student reviewing math concepts from his notes, but he was making something. Something fairly simple, sure, but it was his poster. This student usually prefers direct instructions on what to do and how to do it, but that’s not representative of how the real word works. That’s not what prepares students for life after high school. This assignment was not only covering curriculum, but it was helping prepare this student for how the world works outside the classroom.

scissorsThis student was given an opportunity to do an assignment at his ability level, as were all the students in class. I asked the teacher if I could see the other posters and I saw posters that demonstrated skilled artistic abilities and unique organizational thinking. Plus, most students had to work with other students to complete the assignment, and learning to work with others is invaluable. (My student just happened to be absent the day the assignment was given, but hey, this assignment was easily adaptable!) The math teacher explained that the assignment served as a collaborative learning opportunity for the class. Buzzword alert! This teacher provided a collaborative, project-based, mathematical, differentiated assignment in a pretty simple way. You don’t have to utilize high tech tools to adopt a Maker mindset.

It’s it’s the Maker mindset that guides me as an educational facilitator in the world of special education, and I see that mindset reflected in current educational jargon.  As more and more educators see the limitations often set by a typical worksheet, and they utilize such strategies as, project-based learning, differentiated instruction, inquiry-based instruction, collaborative learning, and student-centered instruction, educational barriers will continue to crumble and disappear.  It all makes me giddy with excitement for what it means for every students’ future, and for educational accessibility so we can all be exceptional learners and thinkers.