My First Maker Day!

IMG_1246I have recently experienced my first maker experience in a school.  What a sight to be seen!  I had read about them, I had visited a large maker faire but had never witnessed it at work in the hallowed halls of a school.  The engagement of students was incredible.  IMG_1233Collaboration between kids was breath taking and the creativity, oh my!

What is a maker experience in a school?  It began with the maker movement which is, in a nutshell, a combining of inventors/tinkerers/designers and technology.  The popularity of the movement within schools might be fueled by needing more tactile, physical attributes of science and engineering pursuits to engage young students (without losing them in a screen).  Some schools have devoted areas, blank canvases, IMG_1239stocked with all sorts of supplies for designing, building, creating and inventing.  Other schools opt for a one/two/three day event where regular school stops and “making” starts.  Students rotate through different stations, each one focusing on one or more core concepts but always allowing for authentic work and personal choice.  This is an awesome step for schools shifting from traditional teacher-led classrooms.  These maker spaces turn students to the center of their learning experience.

During my recent “first”, I facilitated three different stations: Sphero Chariot Racing, Cardboard Creation and littleBits for Big Brains.  Each session was designed around the following framework (a shoutout to my teammate Erin Olson for her expertise!):

  • Explanation (less than 5 minutes)
  • Brainstorm/Think time (5 minutes)
  • Create (20-30 minutes)
  • Reflect/Share (10 minutes)
  • Revision (10-15 minutes)
  • Celebrate/Final Reflect (10-15 minutes)

The above framework  guided the kids perfectly (and me too!). I was nearly brought to tears towards the end of the second day… IMG_1256the level of engagement and concentration while the students were creating with the littleBits circuitry was off-the-charts INCREDIBLE!  I have been around the block, I have taught for almost a decade and let me assure you, this maker movement is something to pay attention to.  I believe (hope, pray, wish, desire, crave) this is the future of our education.  Kids central, kids creating, kids IMG_1254problem-solving, kids engaged, kids interested, kids collaborating, kids designing, kids planning, kids active.

Kids. Loving. Learning.

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Building Blocks

The internet is blowing up with first-day-of-school selfies and stories on social media, reflections of the past year, and wishes for the coming year (not to mention back-to-school marketing to test your self control).  My household is is the full throes as well.  Our youngest daughter has started preschool at our local school and with that, lots of firsts have ensued.  My husband and I had an opportunity to “slow start” with her for 1/2 a day.  During these three hours we went over classroom procedures and familiarized ourselves with her room and routine.  As a parent, it was an assuring experience.  I now know my child is safe and engaged.  I can picture what activities she will be doing for the next 179 school days.

IMG_0993As an educator, I had mixed emotions throughout the morning.  Let me explain: there are amazing, fantastic experiences being offered in our preschool classrooms across the nation.  Children can explore cooperative play, verbalize ideas and act out realistic situations in the Home Play Area.  Children can plan, observe, compare, make predictions, and discover at the Science Area.  Children build self confidence, learn cause & effect, are creative and have an avenue for emotional expression at the Art Area.  And the list goes on and on with the Writing Area, Block Area, Listening Area, Puzzle Area, Library Area, and Sensory Area.  Each space offers in-depth exploration and enquiry while the students are always central to their learning which is using essential tools and skills necessary for a 4-year-old to be successful.

If my child is exposed to all these rich experiences then why do I have mixed emotions as an educator?  Sadly, these experiences will wane throughout her elementary and secondary school movement. The magic will go away, the excitement will fade.  Real-world experiences are replaced by the next test.  Projects will be replaced by reports or Powerpoints that are assigned by the teacher, probably driven by state standards coverage, and these papers or projects will never see the light of day outside the classroom.  Kids will do (or not do) homework for a grade.  The grade will go in the gradebook and at the end of the quarter or semester that student will get an A, B, C, D or F.  Ok – but what did the student learn?  What will they take from their learning to contribute to our society?  What real-world skills were honed?  Did memorizing those dates and names teach them anything?  Can what they are taught be easily Googled?  If so, we failed.  We are failing.  Our educational system is failing by the lack of change in an ever-changing technological world.

Somewhere between preschool and 12th grade our focus shifts from what’s actually important to what seems like it’s important.  The poem Just Playing by Anita Wadley is a good reminder.

Fellow educators – let’s keep playing, let’s keep advocating for play – our kids deserve that much.

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