Learning Supported by Making The early days of K-12 Maker
From 2016-2018, the MIT Edgerton Center ran the Learning Supported by Making project specifically to support K-12 teachers of core subject areas and leaders of school Makerspaces. Through Learning Supported by Making, we offered planning resources, collaborative brainstorming spaces, networking opportunities, and technology skill workshops to give teachers the support they need to create and deliver fun, enriching Maker experiences in their classrooms. We also worked with teachers to co-design planning tools and structures for personal learning networks that we offer via stand-alone professional development workshops (alongside our tools training workshops) as of Spring 2019.
Staff from our partner schools meeting in the Makerspace at the Elmer S. Bagnall Elementary school in Groveland, MA.
When and why to do Maker projects
Many K-12 educators hail the Maker movement as an opportunity to reinvigorate student learning. Teachers, students, and parents agree that Maker projects in the classroom and the high-tech tools of many Makerspaces can increase student engagement and help students develop problem-solving and collaboration skills as well as exposing them to STEM topics. However, integrating Maker projects into existing classroom structures presents major challenges for many core subject teachers.
The “Learning Supported by Making” project started at the MIT Edgerton Center to support K-12 teachers in designing and implementing Maker projects for core academic classes. MIT staff and students collaborated with 15 K-12 schools, from sites with established Makerspaces to sites that are still shopping for their first 3D printer. Working together, we developed and tested tools for designing and planning. The result is a teacher-friendly process and resource bank for designing and leading Maker projects.
Rather than replacing their all of their time-tested methods and activities with Maker projects, we encourage educators to use projects such as these at appropriate times during the school year. Maker projects can help students tie the academic concepts they study to the real world, make connections between subjects, and learn actively by posing their own questions and mastering new and ever-changing technologies.
The Maker Methodology
The central piece of the LSM project is the Maker Methodology. It is based on the engineering design process and takes educators writing curriculum units through problem-definition, ideation, rigorous selection, planning, testing, evaluating, and refining. The Maker Methodology includes creative planning tools, exemplary projects, and facilitation strategies that are intended to be student-focused with teachers serving as learning facilitators rather than processors and dispensers of knowledge. It notably includes an “IdeaBank” of Maker projects. These are NOT pre-packaged, ready-to-run activities - they are sample projects from practicing teachers, that are meant to be adapted to other grade levels and content area. The underlying belief here is one that fits well with Maker mindset – provide ideas and resources and let the Maker-educator come up with the project.
We worked with 15 collaborating schools to co-design the Maker Methodology. These schools were essential to the success of the project as they were our connection to teachers doing this in real classrooms. They provided us with a community of teachers trying things out and sharing their experiences as well as their projects for the IdeaBank. Requirements to become a partner school included an administration committed to Making in core classes, existing access to and skills with Maker tools, and several teachers willing to try out projects in their classes. While the group kept in touch electronically, a key part of the collaboration was the 4 meetings we held over the past school year during which these teachers came together to learn and share.
It is widely reported that traditional K-12 schools have become more focused on content and standardized testing over the past several decades. Ambitious students focus on showing accomplishments through AP courses and other identifiably rigorous activities and are less likely to engage in classes and activities that interest them but may not add to a college resume. in the drive to meet district and state content standards and prepare kids for college entrance exams, many schools are losing the joy of learning and the connections that can be made between seemingly unrelated topics and skills. The effect is students losing confidence, interest, and even their health.
The growing Maker movement offers a potential solution to this problem. Maker projects are hands-on, collaborative, creative projects that often use digital fabrication or other technology-based tools. Makerspaces are workshops where people get together to share ideas as well as technologies. Maker projects promote technological literacy and better access to STEM subjects.
Maker projects help to engage kids in their learning, empower them to explore their own interests, and give them more outlets for self-expression. Maker projects promote technological literacy and better access to STEM subjects. Programs with creative technology projects have been around for a while (robotics clubs, FIRST Lego League, Science Olympiad) but they are typically outside of the regular school day or offered as summer camps. Some schools do offer school-day technology electives, but once again, these are not typically available to all students, and tend to exclude students struggling with academics. Now that the Maker movement is now building steam in adult and youth communities, teachers, students, and parents alike want to integrate 3D printers and other “Maker” technologies in K-12 classrooms.
Goals and Future Work
Our goal with the LSM project is to help educators create engaging, empowering Maker projects to use in regular classes with all students. We proposed this program to the MIT Teaching Systems Lab in Feb 2017 and won a 1-year Teaching and Learning Innovation Grant. That grants supports Diane Brancazio and Leilani Roser to develop these resources and tools. As of June 2018, we have a draft Maker Methodology and resources for educators. Our next step is to refine the process and the resources and make them available more broadly. We also offer regular series of Maker workshops for K-12 teachers, including 3D printing, Laser cutting, Electronics, Arduino, Designing a Makerspace. Demand for all of these resources is high, and we are exploring ways to offer them more broadly using online platforms.