Explora: cultivating an ecosystem of maker educators in New Mexico

This article is part of a series of interviews with our partner organizations in the Making Spaces program. Read more Hub Highlights here

Meet Explora

Explora Science Center & Children’s Museum of Albuquerque is an innovative experiential learning center located in the heart of Old Town Albuquerque featuring over 250 interactive exhibits and activities in science, technology, engineering, art, and math for the whole family.

Tell us about the goals of your organization.

One of Explora’s biggest goals is economic prosperity for our community. To achieve this we focus on career skills development at all stages, and Making has really been championed as an effective and accessible way of engaging learners of all ages to engage with and practice these skills. We hold Maker programs for homeschooled students, spring and summer “camp” participants, schools, a variety of teen programs, and teacher workshops. We have created a “Make @ Home” video series, and have begun a “Maker in Residence” program, connecting local artists with some of our different audiences. 

In fact, there has been a lot of energy and financial support around Making in schools throughout New Mexico for the past few years. For example, the Albuquerque Public Schools Foundation has contributed more than $300,000 since 2013 to fund Makerspaces at more than 25 APS elementary, middle, and high schools. 

What challenges has your organization faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? How have you adapted or changed your approach to respond to these challenges?

Prior to COVID-19, and in response to this energy around making in NM, Explora began facilitating the New Mexico Maker Educator Community of Practice during the fall of 2019, which is open to all educators and makers in NM. Early in the pandemic, these sessions shifted to virtual (and have been since). These monthly meetings typically focus on sharing activity ideas and networking.

Nature Mandala
This is an Earth Day activity shared by a teacher with the NM Maker Educator Community of Practice virtual meeting. The teacher described mandalas as circular structures representing wholeness and organizational structure of life. Image provided by Explora

During these conversations, we have noticed that, while there is a lot of thought going into the equipment and resources for these spaces, there was less thought about how to use these tools to create successful Maker Centered Learning experiences. We noticed that many activities are set up in prescriptive ways, which took away opportunities for students to take initiative, be creative, think critically, collaborate, and solve real-world problems. During our Community of Practice meetings, pressing needs like content (Gack! What are you doing virtually!? What can I do virtually!?) and resources (what are you using to teach virtually!?) take priority over deeper understanding of Maker Centered Learning, facilitation techniques, and even opportunities to learn new Maker skills.

So we created the NM Maker Ed Hub, a network of six community and school sites that would spend the time to focus on the deep stuff.

What new things have you learned during Making Spaces, either about yourself/your personal practice as an educator, or about your organization’s role in learning?

Joining Making Spaces has given us the confidence and tools to work deeply with these six Maker sites to shift the conversation so that we’re not just talking about what a Maker site should look like. Rather, we can focus on how to use activities and tools to facilitate powerful Maker Centered Learning experiences. We used many of the documents, tools, and ideas we received in our Making Spaces workshop and conversations as the foundation for six 2-hour workshops that we hosted virtually during the fall/winter of 2020. Our goal was to support these sites to be able to create a sustainable program that prepares young people for success in the jobs of tomorrow.

The sites are full of spectacular educators who care a lot about their local communities and include 3 elementary schools, one middle school, a museum, and a university affiliated makerspace. In each session, discussions would dive deep into student-centered strategies with the understanding that each site’s community had a unique context, perspectives, and offerings. Some of our most important discussion points were about diving deep and identifying some of the component parts needed to create successful, rich Maker Centered Learning experiences – topics we aren’t typically able to cover in the Community of Practice.

For example, one of the first activities we did in our NM Maker Ed Hub workshop series asked participants to choose and advocate for one of four maker activities, helping to articulate what it is they believe is the power of making. We asked them to choose their ideal representational maker activity from a list of four we provided: designing a phone app, constructing a picnic table, building a robot, making a halloween costume, or cutting vinyl to make personalized mugs. We grouped participants together by activity, where they advocated for their choice – why is this the quintessential maker activity? The discussion that followed helped the group as a whole start to articulate the possible outcomes of making, definitions of Maker Centered Learning, and some of the values embedded in Making. See the screenshot below for an example output from one conversation.

Screenshot from an activity to define “why is this the quintessential maker activity?” Image provided by Explora.

We hope to take what we’ve learned from these experiences to continue to cultivate an ecosystem of Maker Educators to build further support for these and future sites across NM. 

Are there other makers, organizations, and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to celebrate?

Each month, we hear some pretty amazing stories about our teacher partners and what they accomplish virtually every day with few resources and virtually no guidance. Christy Snell works with her entire school, providing maker activities featuring innovations such as virtual “Choice Boards” and padlets. And Denise Hernandez has guided her classroom through many different computer science and other maker activities, using materials her students have at home and on-line resources, such as apps to create stop-motion videos and other animations. Truly humbling and awe-inspiring to learn from these teachers!

Making Spaces is a 30-month professional learning and capacity building program designed to support local leadership around maker education and build the foundation for lasting, embedded change in pedagogy, community, and culture. 

Learn More About Explora

Explora Logo


Website: http://www.explora.us

Location: Albuquerque, NM

Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram





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