Making: A course adjustment!

Posted by Beth Stewart on June 18, 2015

Cartoon of helmsman at wheel
Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Standards, assessments, and skills dominate conversations in and around schools. These topics stick with us even when we get together to socialize outside the school environment. As we have continued to research how to help students “get it,” we have extended our conversations to things like engagement, relevance, and even rigor. We do all this in the name of preparing students for their future.

Certainly, there is a place for such conversations. We are well intentioned professionals that only want the best for students. We live and breath learning. Many of us are so addicted to education that it consumes our every waking minute, but I would pose that we have missed the boat! That ship sailed from a different port, in the middle of the night, and we did not see it leave. But never fear, that ship has lights and many  of us have it in our sites. All that is left to do is to turn our heads toward it and chart our course.

How can we possibly catch this fast moving ship? We need to change where we have been going, to refocus not on what adults believe is essential but on areas that excite and create passion in students. Am I suggesting that we throw out everything we have worked toward for the last 100 years? Absolutely not. I am proposing we tweak our rudders and plot a new course, different from the one we are now on. By changing course we can create a powerful workforce like no other in the world. We need to teach through passion. We need to hone in on the interest of students. We need to design curriculum around the student instead of the fitting the student into the curriculum. When we take this approach, we have a great opportunity to create a nation of “makers.”

What is a maker, and why do we need them? Makers are the steam in our engine. They’re the way we will catch that fast moving ship. While various technologies such as 3-D printers are important to this movement, it is not all about the technology. Being a maker is about creativity, critical thinking skills, and problem solving. It is Project-based learning on steroids. It can certainly involve technology, but that is only one piece. In May 2012, Dale Doughtery stated,

To build, to make, to create is something that’s in all of us, but especially in every child. However, like creativity itself, children need the opportunity to explore making and develop their capabilities through practice. Young makers need access to tools, mentors and other people who enjoy making things. That’s how children grow as makers and become lifelong learners. When children and teens make things, they are having fun but they are also engaged in learning. They are learning to realize their own creative ideas, to solve real problems and to overcome failure and frustration in the process. When they say proudly to others: “Look what I made!”, they’ve become a maker.*

The paradigm shift for educators will be great. Being a maker does not fit inside a nice little box or within the context of a 40 minute period. Making is an exciting, cross-curricular approach that must rest within the passions of the students it serves. Teachers and administrators will have to step aside and let creativity run rampant in the classroom and building. It may be loud or quiet, neat or messy, tiny or huge.

With making, the sky is only limited by the vision of the maker and the question that is posed. As schools embrace the “Maker Movement,” how questions are worded to students will be at the core. Instead of “build a sled,” the question becomes “design something that will transport me down a snowy, icy hill. I’d like to go fast because I’m a little bit of a daredevil.” This type of open-ended question allows students to think beyond a sled and allows them to be creative. Isn’t that what we want for all our students? I believe we all want this type of success and passion for all our students—to be able to think, to create, to do, to make!

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*Doughtery, Dale. “Making Is Learning.” Maker Education Initiative. MakerEd, 15 May 2012. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://makered.org/making-is-learning/>.

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