Last Friday, we were given a homework assignment to do a little digging on the Maker Movement and tweet a reading about it. I found an article on the Huffington Post by Brit Morin. Morin started out her article by talking about the small amount of interest in shop or home economics when she was in school. There is an entire generation of people who haven’t had access to vocational skills such as sewing (for example). I found the article interesting because of her take on the lack of vocational instruction in school. I took tech ed and home economics in middle school, but other than that, I never learned how to make anything. Three years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to crochet. I learned the basics with a book I bought at Hobby Lobby, and the rest from YouTube. I guess that makes me a maker in a way…
During the lesson on Monday morning, we were given “maker kits”. These kits included wires, LEDs, circuit boards, etc. For the most part, they worked from the power of the computer (connected with a USB). Makers can use these kits to power any kind of contraption (aka hack) that they can dream up. Working in small groups, we experimented with these kits and slowly brainstormed ideas of the use they could have in our classrooms.
After lunch, we moseyed to downtown Galway to visit 091 Labs. The folks in this lab are all energetic makers and hackers who have memberships to the lab. They come when the lab is open to play with the various tools and equipment. There are several 3D printers, a mill, robotics materials, computer parts, mother boards…and probably anything else that a maker/hacker could want. To the people at the lab, it is a dream space. I could imagine that many of my students would love to be in a space like that where they are free to create.
After a tour of the lab and a chat with some of the makers, my group and I set to work playing with Little Bits. We had some fantastic help from some of the other makers, and we even learned how to make homemade buzzers (picture a game show buzzer). However, despite all of our helpers’ creativity and know-how, I struggled with how to “hack” Little Bits and turn it into a tool for my classroom. I couldn’t help but feel like all of my ideas already existed in one way, shape, or form that didn’t include Little Bits.
However, after a good night’s sleep (always healthy for the creativity), I had an idea that related to a unit of Japan that I teach. My kids make lanterns as part of a research project. They present their lanterns to the class along with other information that they find about Japan. I could use the LED lights to illuminate the lanterns…hmmm. I’ll have to play with it some more I think.
This is a new form of learning for me. I don’t think of myself as a kinetics or hands-on learner. Often, I feel that I get distracted by things that we are supposed to play with for a lesson. However, learning about the Maker Movement in this way has been very memorable for me. It’s one thing to sit and read about a Maker Faire or different ways to joint the maker movement. But to actually sit in a maker lab and work was truly an eye opening experience that I will never forget! I have a new appreciation for kids who need to do something in order to learn it.
Since first being exposed to the Maker Movement last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which it can effect my classroom. My students don’t get many opportunities to be creative, so I am excited about the idea of introducing them to “making” and “hacking”. However…I’m not sure the best way to go about doing so.
I have been mentally playing with a couple of different ways to include making and hacking in my classroom. The first idea that I had was to create an expository writing assignment for my students that involved Little Bits. Since my students are intermediate/advanced English speakers, one of the writing skills that we practice is “How To” writing. I was thinking that my kids could write step by step directions on how to make the Little Bits do something, such as start the buzzer or turn the light on. We could then work in partners to see if they can follow one anothers’ directions.
The other idea that I’ve come up with has to do with our big unit on Japan and the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. One of the things we do is make Japanese style paper lanterns the way Sadako does in the story. I think it would be neat if my students came up with their own way of making the lanterns instead of me teaching them how to do it. They could “make” their own lanterns and make a video of their process (much like I am doing for this project).
Today, a couple of classmates and I headed into downtown Galway to visit some charity shops for some materials for our projects. I didn’t find anything in the charity shops that seemed like it would make a good lantern. However, when we went to the grocery story, I found some blue polka dot cupcake cups and some string. Perhaps I can experiment with making a string of lanterns? This project wouldn’t really involve the Little Bits maker kit, but I think my kids would enjoy teaching their classmates how to make a paper lantern in a way that they’ve invented.
I’m interested to see what my classmates have to say about my idea and if they will have any will have any ideas to share with me. I’m not too sure how beautiful my lanterns will look, but I am stretching myself to learn something new.
As we came closer and closer to “collaboration day” for our maker project, I began hearing from more and more people in the class that they didn’t know what they were doing for their project. I have to admit that I was stressed about it too. After a conversation with my instructor about my lantern idea, I felt much more reassured about the direction that I was going. I felt relieved that I didn’t need to try and force a maker kit into my final product.
Before we began working together in class one day, we had a quick round-robin to hear what people were planning to do for their projects. Several of the other English teachers in the room seemed to have faced the same struggle that I faced when trying to incorporate the maker kits. After sharing my lantern idea, there was a collective sense of relief from the English teachers…”ah I don’t have to use that!” We were able to discuss other options that didn’t include the maker kits. After our collaboration day, I know that many of my classmates walked away with clearer heads.
While I think that the maker kits are amazing tools, I just could not find a practical way to fit into my teaching. I don’t have my own classroom, so anything created would have been easily moveable. Also, I don’t do anything involving electricity in my curriculum. Using the ideas and inspiration of the Maker Movement, I was easily able to modify an existing assignment into something more creative and hands on.
I really cannot take full credit for my lantern idea. It came about one night when speaking with my roommate about the challenges I was facing. My roommate also happens to be my teaching partner in Istanbul, so she is very familiar with our school and curriculum. She came up with an idea to use the LittleBits light bulb to illuminate students’ lanterns after they had been made. This was the idea that eventually landed me on my final product.
Without the collaboration portion of this project, I know that I would have never gotten to my final stage. Discussing my ideas with my classmates and my coworker really enabled me to get to a final vision. I have created an activity that will be engaging for my students, embraces the Maker Movement, and is not forced into my classroom. Having gone through this process, I can better understanding of what my students would go through when seeking to understand a project that I give me. It’s always helpful for teachers to put their “student hat” every once and a while. Walking in my students’ shoes has really adjusted my perspective.
The final step of my Maker Journal is a summary of my experiences in a video. This video explains my thought process about the Maker Movement and it’s application in my classroom, as well as my interpretation of a Maker Project that my students could do.
My goal for myself in this project was to rethink a project that my ELL students could do that was creative and would improve their problem solving skills as well as their English. At first I really struggled with trying to find a way to fit in Little Bits. But once I realized that the project was not so constraining, everything began to fall into place. My main learning sources were my peers. Without their help, collaboration, and coaching, I don’t think the final product would have been anywhere near successful. The friendly people at 091 labs were also hugely helpful in reminding me what it means to be curious and creative innovators. All of these things have helped me relearn what creativity means.
This video was made to verbalize my thought process as I experienced/modeled what my students would do for their own lantern projects. The idea is that my students could create their own video tutorials of how to make a paper lantern.
The first day of this project, which was spent at 091 Labs, was very perplexing for me. I left the lab without any inkling of how I could use the maker kits in my teaching. I think most of my stress came from trying to find a way to use the kits. However, once I learned that I didn’t have to use the kits, I landed on a project at once.
I have to say, my favorite part of this project was the fact that I was free to work on my own, but was still allowed lots of time to collaborate, network, and talk with others. I felt a lot of freedom in talking with lots of people about my project, but I knew that the final product would be all me. It was very helpful and encouraging.
Going to the charity shops with my classmates was a memorable experience. We went shopping during the early stages of my lantern idea, and I wasn’t very pleased with the materials that I found. However, I feel that I improvised well. I had an idea in my head, and even though my “lanterns” aren’t the prettiest things, I achieved making them in a creative way. Working through this process the same way my students would helped me understand the type of structure that they will need to actually complete the activity.
I truly feel a new appreciation of creativity. It’s like so many doors have been opened now that I know I can adjust and tweak activities and projects that I’ve already taught. I know that prior to this experience, my best attempt at fostering creativity in my classroom meant that my kids wrote about an imaginary friend or drew a picture of something that they had read about. I now understand that creativity can come in the form of problem-solving. Figuring out how to make a lantern is a “problem” that my students can solve in a creative way. I’ve already been thinking about other activities that I can modify to achieve the same result.
Learning about the Maker Movement has been a strong reminder of how education is such a pendulum. 50 years ago, students took vocational skill classes such as wood shop, home economics, even auto shop. Now, students are rarely exposed to these lessons. Because of the Maker Movement, schools are trying to incorporate more classes like the ones that were offered a generation ago. There are some differences of course; a student may opt to take robotics or video game design instead of wood shop, but the idea is the same. Connecting with kids over making something is a great way to reach them, increase buy-in and interest in education, and introduce problem solving in innovative ways. The Maker Movement is about so much more than making and hacking. It’s about affinity spaces, finding common ground, and exploring a world outside of word problems and textbooks (Gee, 2013).
For me, this project has been a lot about remembering to trust the process. I struggled at first to understand what this could possible have to do with my classroom. But once I figured out what I was doing and took ownership of my idea, I realized that it really could work for me. The end result has really guided me towards a new way of planning future projects for my students.
Gee, J.P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.