While deciding to have a MakerLab in the school house was an important start, using the Lab effectively to enhance the instructional program was our goal.
As Hunter Thompson has stated, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” We met this challenge, in part, by creating an Innovation Team comprised of teachers and staff from various grade levels and subject areas. The team, spear-headed by a fifth grade teacher who is particularly passionate about Maker Education, is responsible for all things MakerLab, including purchasing or acquiring materials, communicating MakerLab etiquette, professional development for teachers, and evaluating the nature in which the Lab is used. While the Lab is visited by all grades (K-5) in many different subjects, the following is a description of how our Innovation Team Leader used the MakerLab in a fifth grade ELA lesson that eventually led to an exciting Twitter-based culminating activity with a famous children’s author.
After reading the novel, Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper, the teacher wanted her students to be able to demonstrate their comprehension of the novel by conceptualizing various assistive devices that could be used by the main character, Melody, a young lady in a wheelchair that has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak.
Imagine the “old school” activity that might have been assigned to achieve this learning outcome– Piles of “handouts” are given to the children who were lucky enough to have “Paper Passer Outer” as their job this week, students are directed to write their names on the top, read the directions, and get to work on drawing a picture of what Melody could use to assist with her disability. The teacher dutifully circulates between and among the rows to ask each child about his or her drawing as she makes notes on the student checklist attached to her clipboard. Passersby in the hallway peek into the classroom to see students at desks drawing their works of art and admire how quietly they are working independently.
Now, put your MakerLab glasses on – The teacher spends three minutes discussing the non-negotiables of the assignment as described on the rubric. Then, large tables on wheels are moved to various places in the room. In small groups, students are discussing their vision for the invention they will make together to improve Melody’s quality of life, based on the description of her character in the novel. Each group quickly gets to work on their first attempt at the invention, choosing from an abundance of re-purposed materials, including bottle caps, aluminum foil, and toilet paper rolls. Some of the ongoing student collaboration in a few of the groups leads to a realization that the first idea doesn’t meet all of the components of the rubric, so they switch out a few materials and add some more duct tape to better meet the goals of the assignment. The thrill of not having to erase their work or ask for another handout is not lost on these students. The teacher is circulating, but doesn’t have to ask anyone about their assignment because they are already excitedly explaining it as she approaches their table. Passersby become quiet as they come upon the MakerLab because the noise level in there is significantly greater than that of the hallway. They assume the students have taken over and tied up a substitute in the corner, but quickly realize that creativity, innovation, collaboration, problem solving, and empathy for Melody’s character have led to incredibly imaginative creations.
The students want this documented, so they ask their teacher to Tweet out some of their creations (see pics below). When she does, the author takes notice and requests to engage in a Twitter Chat with the students. In short order, over 100 students pile into the Cafeteria to look at the Twitter feed projected onto the large screen. For 30 minutes, they engage in a Twitter Chat with Sharon Draper, who says, “This has been the best session ever!” Students gained tremendous insight into the writing of this novel and what it means to be a published author. Ms. Draper was able to hear how much her readers love the character of Melody.
I’m sure there are MakerLabs out there whose primary role is the collection of dust, but at Hillcrest, it is a place where imagination, creativity, and learning come to life. I guess a MakerLab is, well… whatever you make it to be.