Maker News
Maker (Educator) Spotlight: Emily Burk

Creating the space for “big learning” in the growing town of Anna, TX—about 50 miles northeast of Dallas—has been a labor of love for Emily Burk, who has been teaching at the local high school in Anna for 22 years and counting. Now the Makerspace Integration Technology Specialist (MITS) who  helps oversee a 3700 sq.ft space that is a one-of-a-kind in the state, her journey to this point illustrates the creative, try-and-see approach that has taken her from her starting point as an English-Choir-Dance teacher to her current role.

We talked to Emily recently about her work as a maker educator and also got a chance to hear more in her presentation during the Make: Education Forum on September 24-25th. In their session, Emily and Ted Mackey, Director of CTE and Makerspaces and Emily’s collaborator and “without whose research, support, & help the makerspace initiative wouldn’t be possible,” discussed the connection among the school makerspace, community members, and local businesses and how they can together help prepare students for future success in college and develop career readiness through industry-based certifications that give your students opportunities to seek & develop skills necessary for the workplace. 

Asked how she got her start as a maker, Emily noted the makers in her family: Her grandmothers who sewed, crocheted, and took photographs; her grandfather who built various things and was a Bob Ross-inspired painter and serial entrepreneur selling his crafts at local fairs; her father, an electrical and communications service engineer and tinkered with gadgets and computers in his spare time. Exposure to the art of fixing things and to craft work of all kinds—as a dancer and dance teacher she designed and made dance costumes, for example—was combined with her passion for finding creative approaches to teaching the same curriculum year after year.

As a young teacher she observed that students were most engaged when they were doing something with their hands. Despite the static, by-the-book nature of most high school English classes, she began to incorporate project-based and collaborative learning into her classroom. This included getting students out of their seats and, often, moving lessons into school hallways where they had the room to get messy with cardboard and glitter.  “The classroom box was just too small and creativity needed more physical space.”

Photo credit: AP Art Teacher Ms. Haleigh Hite and one of her students being trained on the CNC for an AP art project. She also took some of these pictures.

An early adopter of “ed tech”—1-to-1 laptops, tech apps, Google For Education—Emily had students creating films and adding coding to their projects, sometimes using green screens and Spheroballs (including designing coded obstacle courses representing the plot of texts like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). Collaborations and cross-curricular technology allowed students to engage more meaningfully with the required texts. Students also created projects on The Odyssey and the Global Hero’s Journey where they built sets and integrated AV that they showed off the to the community in a Red Carpet Event.

In 2017, Emily transitioned to the school library. There she started the school’s first Maker Club and continued to create space for students to get busy making. With 15+ kids coming regularly to the STEAM club, they explored technology and by year two had decided on a group project—a life-sized version of a 1977 Chevrolet Truck made out of PVC, cardboard, fabric, and maybe some 3D printed parts and materials donated from community businesses that the students had planned, proposed, and sourced themselves. It was made in the library (never fully completed, but no less of an achievement) and served as an ongoing advertisement for the STEAM club and maker culture in Anna ISD.

The short story is that it is hard not to notice a big cardboard truck in the middle of the library and the Career and Technical Education (CTE) director took notice of the conversation kids were having about math, science , engineering, and manufacturing stemming from their STEAM club. Ted Mackey, now CTE Director of the makerspace, was on a Makerspace rollout team with other administrators including Jennifer Kelley, the Executive Director over Secondary Schools for Anna ISD. After multiple site visits, this team saw the need to dedicate a person to create policies and run the space & tools.By 2018, the school was breaking ground on a designated makerspace and were making site visits to UT Arlington and Dallas Makerspace to get ideas for what they could do with the opportunity. With her experience and enthusiasm, Emily gained the opportunity to put her creative vision to work in a big space for big learning.

The makerspace opened in 2019, and Emily and her colleagues have worked to show teachers how maker learning can be integrated and to bring students from outside disciplines like engineering and fine arts into the makerspace. The Anna ISD curriculum is career focused and students regularly start vocational training in high school. For example, students from the criminal justice program came to the space and learned how to use tools and tech to design and create badges, logos, and flags. And, students studying Counseling and Mental Health created sensory and emotional regulation tools and experiences.

Mrs. Coleman’s Counseling & Mental Health classes visiting the Makerspace for MakerEd integration. They were exploring various materials in a “sensory buffet” the teacher & I set up then the students made an emotional regulation tool (prompt by Maker Ed).

In the last three pictures: these are a couple of my Makerspace student staff (Reveau & Bryce) delivering a flag to our Law Enforcement class teacher Ms. Rodriguez, they printed on the direct ink to garment printer then sewed. Her Law Enforcement students designed the images in Canva in the Makerspace (I trained the students in how to use it) then my Makerspace staff did all the printing & sewing.

Given the growing needs of the space, Emily now oversees 16 student staff members that help run and train others on machines in the high school Makerspace. This year, a 6th grade Makerspace teacher, Amy Greenwood, joined the Makerspace team, and teaches 6th grade Makerspace class. To prepare for the future-ready opportunities the high school makerspace offers, middle school students in Anna, who lack a dedicated physical space in a repurposed classroom, are concentrating on maker-centered skills like tinkering, textiles, graphic design, Arduino, and CAD.

As she discussed in her presentation at the Make: Education Forum, one of the real goals of the space is to provide an opportunity for certification so that students can use their skills to find jobs. In fact, a number of students have already become entrepreneurs with their STEAM skills.

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Jennifer Blakeslee keeps the Global Maker Faire program running smoothly and has been a maker at Maker Faire since 2011. Among other things, she really likes to travel, write, cook, hike, make big art, and swim in the ocean.

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