What Do You Want to Make?
Author: Casey Shea
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work as a teacher-on-loan at SCOE to help educators throughout Sonoma County establish and expand the making opportunities in their schools and classrooms. Since starting Project Make in 2011 with Dale Dougherty, publisher of Make magazine and founder of the Maker Faire, I have seen firsthand the positive results that spring from making and tinkering. I have come to believe that these activities and the philosophies behind them are an essential part of the recipe for a true 21st century education.
Making is not a fad. Many of the innovations that have helped shape modern life were born in the garages of tinkerers who kept working through initial setbacks and frustrations before finding ultimate success. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
His and other tinkerers’ stories provide the ultimate illustration of what educators call formative assessment. Their early failures led to ultimate successes in the iterative process of making and tinkering. In this framework, failure becomes a necessary condition for success, not a final judgment of understanding or ability, as is often the case in traditional educational models.
Many of the 21st century skills needed by our students are nurtured and strengthened by making. I see beautiful examples of collaboration and communication, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity, and perseverance every day in my classroom. Engaged in a project in which they have a personal investment, students who struggle to stay awake in math class often ask to work through lunch to finish “just this one thing.”
However, making is not a magic wand for education and there are many challenges that a teacher can expect to face when they walk down this path. These challenges range from logistical questions regarding the acquisition and organization of tools, materials, and curriculum to the possibly uncomfortable switching of roles when a teacher truly becomes a learner in an environment where it is all but guaranteed that there are areas in which a student has more knowledge and experience.
The dizzying pace of technological advances has produced incredible and relatively affordable tools, from 3D printers to laser cutters to microcontrollers such as the Arduino, that are making their way into schools. Learning to use these tools takes time and effort.
All the technological gizmos in the world will not produce creative problem-solvers without a solid educational framework. Effective maker activities engage students in using their hands and minds to create and solve problems—often centered around a theme or prompt—but always infused with their own interests and passions. They can involve amazing technology, but also be done with low-tech tools and materials that are likely already in your home or classroom.
Plans for This Year
My goals for the year include sharing proven high-tech and low-tech lessons, projects, and activities with K-12 teachers and helping to connect these activities to the new CCSS and NGSS demands. As described below, several upcoming opportunities aim to do this.
Maker Certificate Program
The Maker Certificate Program is a new collaborative venture between SCOE, Maker Media, and Sonoma State University.
SCOE Make Workshop, Nov 5
On Nov 5, there will be a Make Workshop at SCOE featuring superstar maker teachers from all grade levels. They’ll share their experiences and some of their best maker lessons. Other workshops will be held in the spring to focus on specific areas, such as building compressed air rocket launchers or exploring the exciting advances in electronics and their implications for education.
Techshops for Teachers
At my shop, I am working with a number of educators on the uses of 21st century tools such as laser cutters, vinyl cutters, and 3D printers. I hope to expand this in the near future with the planned opening of a Makerspace at SCOE.
Maker Boxes for Loan
Also in the works are “maker boxes” of tools, supplies, and curriculum materials that will be available for checkout from SCOE Library. Examples include Conductive Play Dough and Circuit Board kits to help teach electronics and basic circuitry.
Check the SCOE Maker Education page at scoe.org/make regularly for resource ideas and announcements!