Whenever I talk to teachers about using the makerspace I hear quite a few excuses, “I don’t have time!” “I don’t know how to connect what I’m doing to the makerspace.” “It scares me!”. Teachers are naturally perfectionists, so I’m never too shocked to hear these utterances. However, I stress to teachers that the learning that can take place in the makerspace will help the students gain a stronger understanding of the concepts from class and increase their
retention of those concepts.
When approaching a makerspace lesson for the first time it’s important to have a candid conversation with your students about trying new things. Let them know that this is the first time you are approaching the content this way and you don’t know if it will work the way you hope it will. By doing this you open your students up for deeper reflection at the end of the project or lesson. Connecting learning with the GRR framework of Fisher and Frey (Fisher & Frey, 2014) we need to model learning for our students. This modeling isn’t restricted to content or a thinking strategy, it can also be how to we approach new learning. Modeling vulnerability, although not comfortable, will promote this same approach in your students. Perhaps they will be willing to take a risk to enhance their learning because the feel safer having watched you do it.
Breaking into the makerspace for the first time is a challenge. You need to shift your mindset of how to teach standards to your students from a traditional method to real world application method. Allow the students to master the standard through applying instead of just demonstrating on paper. The place to start is to ask yourself the famous question, “When will they use this in real life?” Or better, “Who uses this in real life?” (We should always have an answer to this question, otherwise, what are we doing!) The answer to this question is going to be your connection to “makerfy” your lesson.
While sitting down a fourth grade teacher who was beginning to plan an upcoming science unit we discussed ways to get her kids into the makerspace. The unit was on ecology and she wasn’t seeing a maker connection. I asked the question, “Who uses studies ecology and what would they do?” This sparked a deeper conversation around the purpose for the unit and connections to the real world and current events in our district. The teacher spoke about a new development that was being built and the effects that has on local birds. This conversation eventually led us to design a project around birdhouses and bird feeders for displaced bird species.
The goal of a maker lesson is to allow the kids to solve problems in their own way. By establishing a prompt for your lesson that includes a real life problem, displaced birds, car stopping systems at border crossings, accurate speed traps, etc. You establish a mindset that kids can improve the world around them now. This empowers them to use the mathematical practices, or text connections, or nature of science and put it to practice use. It makes the learning concrete and increases their retention of the concepts.
Check out some Makerspace Resources to get you started in the #MakerMovement.
Chris Montagna, M Ed.
Instructional Technology Coach
Penn London Elementary School & Avon Grove Intermediate School