You know you have “arrived” when the White House honors a week just for you. This June 17-23 President Obama and his staff will host the National Week of Makers. With the support of the President, it’s safe to say that making is not just a trend, rather it is a movement rapidly spreading across the educational landscape. It has become commonplace to hear of urban makers quarters, events such as Maker Faires, and schools building maker spaces in community areas. As is with most frenzies, while it can be invigorating and inspiring, it can also feel intimidating and overwhelming. If the later descriptors speak to you, never fear because there are baby steps you can take to integrate making into your curriculum.
Be a Mover
Begin by moving classroom furniture and simply creating a physical space conducive to tinkering. Think about small adjustments you can make to create a corner in your room that is dedicated to hands-on, open exploration. Perhaps an old kidney table turned workbench; or an unused outdoor patio turned “building sandbox”; or takeover that empty bulletin board and replace it with hanging electronic equipment. Check out TinkerLab for ideas on how to create a space that peaks curiosity and breeds creative thinking.
If you don’t have room to dedicate an entire space, perhaps consider a traveling tinker cart that can move around to different temporary locations in your room or outside. The point here is to have a designated space that honors hands-on, playful learning. To support this type of environment you may also want to post some encouraging norms like the ones pictured below. However you establish your space, you will want to be sure that you have engaging materials. For ideas on materials check out MakerED.org.
Be a Shaker
Shake up your daily schedule and carve out time for students to tinker. This doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your entire school day – start small. This may be a simple “choice time” when students complete their work. During this time students are free to pick an activity when they are done with their assigned work, and tinkering is simply an option for them. You may also consider 20-30 minutes after lunch a few times a week as a “download time” for the entire class. A class structure such as this one will ensure that all students have time to tinker during the week and will also send a powerful message that you are dedicating class time to such exploration, because it is valuable learning. These small shifts won’t require a lot of preparation on your part, as it is simply a time for students to freely explore the materials you provide in the designated space you have shaken up in your classroom.
If you have tried both of these baby steps and are feeling ready to take a leap, you may consider shaking up the weekly schedule to include a Tinker Time or Genius Hour one to two times a week. Led by student interest and inquiry, Genius Hour parallels the outcomes of a mini project, in that students have freedom to explore, design, tinker, and build to fulfill some sort of a self-identified deliverable. A structure such as Genius Hour requires more teacher preparation and student accountability than simply choice time or download time, however it also ensures that there is an outcome for student exploration and tinkering, which makes it easier to explicitly connect to class content and skills. If you are feeling ready, Check out this resource filled with plans, outlines, and ideas for a Genius Hour that ensures deeper learning.
Be a Maker
When first striving to integrate making into the curriculum, I highly recommend that you use a framework that suits you and your students. Frameworks are a lovely reinforcement to provide you and your students with some guidelines and direction for moving from tinkering for enjoyment and exploration, to making for an intended purpose or audience. Here are 2 frameworks to consider: Design thinking and Next Generation Science Standards.
Design Thinking is an 5 step process to approach innovative design. To learn more about Design Thinking you can read about it from the D School at Stanford. For the past decade progressive schools, such as High Tech High, have been experimenting with Design Thinking as a conduit for Project Based Learning. Design Thinking has become more commonplace, existing in pockets of schools across the United States. While the language of the 5 step process of Design Thinking may vary, typically the steps include: Discovering and understanding a problem, playing around to create something to address that problem, testing the creation or design, and reflecting upon the process. There is a growing body of resources for educators on Design Thinking – including project ideas, planning resources, and whole school implementation. Design Thinking can provide a direction for teachers and students who are ready to bring making into the classroom, through the creation of a product designed to address a real problem in the local or global community.
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offers another framework for implementing making into the curriculum. The engineering standards can be used in tandem with other NGSS as a way for students to apply scientific content knowledge and use their hands to show this application. These engineering standards could easily be woven into any unit, across any discipline, where a final product is used to assess content mastery. For more how standards integrate with making check out this article on maker education. For a concrete example of what an integrated project looks like that includes design thinking and making check out this project.
Even if you are not quite ready to be a full-on Maker, perhaps you are feeling ready to be a mover or a shaker. We are all in different places on our journey into a future filled with innovation and unthinkable changes for our students. What step are you excited to take toward integrating making into your curriculum next year?