November 5, 2012, by Gary Donahue
In many K-12 schools “clubs” and “electives” are often great starting points for engaging more kids in Making. It’s challenging though (even for well meaning schools) to transition these experiences from optional pit-stops in your curriculum to their more deserving role as the main vehicle with which to explore the curriculum. Though every school will have its own unique journey here’s some tips I’ve learned in helping transition Making from a club to your curriculum:
1. Curriculum mapping: Many schools have a general map of their curriculum, the ones don’t can easily create at least a basic outline of major topics of inquiry at each grade level. Once created these serve as an excellent starting point for finding and managing opportunities for Making.
For example after looking at the grade level curriculum maps for our school I could see which units could easily connect with a hands-on STEAM project. To highlight two specifics the 4th grade team created a flexible design brief for a Robotics Infused Rube Goldberg project that integrated with their inquiry into simple machines.
To enhance their study of green energy the 5th grade team created several design briefs for a variety of projects that students could attempt to build from windmills that light LED lights to s’mores cooking solar ovens.
The additional benefits of curriculum mapping is that it gives you a more detailed view into the flow of your school’s learning environment, so you can now better share limited resources. For example if you only have a classroom set of some popular Maker tools (e.g. glue guns, Legos, robotic sets, a single 3D printer, and hand tools) you can now stager major hands-on projects so that a grade level will have full access to these resources during their projects. Another benefit is fluid storage of works in progress. Great projects take time so students need an easy way to store their creations without being overwhelmed with a mass of projects competing for limited shelf space.
2. Professional Development: Despite identifying obvious opportunities for Making within the curriculum chances are you will find resistance from colleagues who are more comfortable with a product-driven “fill the bucket” not a process-driven “light the fire” learning environment. By far the strongest option for creating sustainable change is a comprehensive PD model that promotes professional learning communities/networks focused on answering a question such as “How can kids explore the curriculum through hands-on STEAM rich learning experiences?” CMK 2013, and FabLearn are great retreats to connect your faculty with a vibrant community of Maker minded educators.
In the short term an effective Monday-morning-strategy is simply asking teachers to try reversing the flow of one of their units. Instead of filling students with content for days before they can create something, start with the project and look for opportunities to guide kids through cross-curriculum content.
In the 5th grade project mentioned above teachers were able to integrate math and language arts activities that naturally flowed from the student’s projects. For example the students kept a reflection journal of their group’s progress, drew sketches of their designs, learned new research skills, and integrated math by graphing the results from tests they conducted on their various prototypes.
The more curriculum objectives that can naturally flow from a project the better, as often the biggest barrier to creating an authentic learning environment is an overly manicured schedule that has kids transitioning from one subject to the next every 30 mins.
3. Map ‘em out!: Once opportunities for Making have been identified across grade levels, build a map with your faculty. This can be a valuable step for a variety of reasons as you can now: have a bird’s eye view of major hands-on projects, look for opportunities to infuse STEAM into these projects, further anchor these experiences in your curriculum by connecting them with the NETS, simplify communication, enhances purchasing decisions. Here’s a sample I made for my current school:
4. Essential Ingredients: Dr. Gary Stager outlines four variables for establishing a solid foundation for learning: Time, Materials, a Great Prompt, and a Supportive Environment. Being mindful of these four elements I believe can greatly enhance what kids can accomplish. Programming a robot or building and testing a prototype takes time, so having only 30 mins a day to engage in a project is not going to be a very enjoyable experience for students especially when it takes 1/2 the class to setup and cleanup.
5. Get the word out: Having your community and especially your parents begin to champion a more engaging way to approach the curriculum can be extremely valuable. Parents who often do not have a vivid lens into the classroom might pushback on a project rich learning environment given it’s “Not how I was taught in school”…but once they can better experience what their child is doing via videos/posters/social-media or better yet a school based Maker Faire you are set to win some hearts & minds.
Below is a sample of a QR Code poster which can nicely connect digital content to a print medium. I frequently use these to help celebrate and communicate the great Maker projects happening at our school.
To close here’s a promotional video for our Makerspace that contains lots of snippets from projects that help our community connect with the many reasons why creating more opportunities for engaging their kids in Making will inspire their curiosity and expand their knowledge well beyond the narrow scope of a checkbox approach to the curriculum.
About the Author:
Gary Donahue has served in a number of administrative, consultant, and student guiding roles in his 16 years in education across three continents with his current position of Ed Tech Integration Specialist at Chadwick International School in New Songdo City, South Korea. Gary sends many thanks and admiration to his colleagues for helping build a culture of Making and especially the ES principal, Shelly Wille, for being an ardent supporter and leader of learning through Making. He can be reached at email@example.com.