Maker courses

Computers & Mobile Robotics Science Technology
Maker courses

Creating a Maker Course
In the next month or so I will have a semester change, and with it an opportunity to restructure the sequence of three courses. Robotics, Building and Repairing Computers and Web Design are three classes that I have taught before, and am looking to streamline the content of the courses. The high schoolers taking the classes range from 9th graders to seniors. The classes are unleveled, meaning that anybody can take the class. The result of this is that you may have a 15 year old next to an 18 year old, a student with mild curiosity to deeply held career goals that relate directly to the subject, from reluctant to excited and engaged all in the same class. That’s just the nature of public schools. In this school system, students are expected to write in every class for at least 5 minutes every day.

Projects that students do should be clear cut and have a purpose that relates to previous work and future projects as well. Sequential, foundation work is a good idea, but should not be taken so far as to remove the creativity that kids have and need to develop. Students should develop relevant skills while having a good time learning and creating something of personal value.

Students need to be able to know how they will be evaluated early in the project and course. Rubrics are a standard in many school systems. Testing can and likely should be built into the process of assessment.

Developing student interest
With a diverse population of learners, it is important to provide differentiated instruction, allowing all students to get the best out of the classroom environment. Ideally, even the most reluctant student should be able to deepen his or her interest in valuable ways. through experience with the ideas, tools and materials and processes in the course. Sometimes, students repeat courses, so it is useful to have projects that can be done in multiple ways and still provide useful learning experiences.

Equipment available
Some of the tools available are: Powermatic bandsaw, Delta drillpress, 12 inch chopsaw, Hand saws, power drills, wood lathe, manual Sherline metal lathe, Taig Micromill, metal foot shear and bending brake, Roland vinyl cutter, 4’x8′ Shopbot (in a separate room), electricity cabinet with soldering irons, breadboards, copper clad board, resistors, transistors, capacitors, switches hand drafting tools, 20 stations of Pentium 4 windows XP computers with internet connection, black and white laser printer, scanner, 4-5 work tables with lockers underneath, 120 volt power and ethernet drops, computer projector display.

Time structures
The class period is 70 minutes. There are 5 periods per day, 7 in the cycle, so either 3 or 4 class meetings per week (except holiday weeks). The courses are semester long, 10 weeks per term, 5 weeks per half term. At the end of the semester is an exam which is 20 percent of the full grade.

What would you do?
How can teachers cultivate creativity and competence while developing skills in their maker students? What do you think the best and most essential projects for kids to learn in Robotics, Web Design, Programming and Building and Repairing Computers? What experiences worked best for you? What do you wish somebody told you early in your learning of these subjects? What are the best materials and tools for students to work effectively and creatively with? Have you developed a maker-friendly curriculum? Do you have great projects that you know work for situations like this? Have you got an online portfolio of the projects you use in your classroom? What techniques do you use to evaluate student learning? Tell us your success stories! Add your comments of ways that you make your classroom work, and add photos and video of student work to the Make Flickr pool.

4 thoughts on “Maker courses

  1. Russ says:

    How can teachers cultivate creativity and competence while developing skills in their maker students? –Make sure they don’t think they are learning. Have them get excited about the class through competitions. There is no reason why students that have the best webpage get a prize. I had a class in my high school “Science Inquiry” which is a catch all for engineering, problem solving and making.

    Our teachers would set up some challenging competitions (the last one was really cool)

    The teachers would usually invest personally in our performance and give the winning team a hex set, or something else that was useful.

    Also, depending on where you are, have you thought about having people come in and demo things? What school do you teach at?

  2. A.Scott says:

    I teach technology in a small urban high school. I am interested in incorporating some Make resources to create better and more valuable courses. Currently, the classes I teach cover some computer applications such as MIT’s Scratch, web design, and Google Sketchup. I am interested in diving deeper with my students and would welcome any resources!

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