My colleague Tim Kennedy, a middle school math teacher, was having some trouble with that most middle school of issues: generating engagement among his students. Many kids at this age start to become (literally) too-cool-for-school and resist all attempts by their teachers to get them interested or excited in anything education-related. For instance, the two most common questions that my own middle school students regularly ask are:
1) “Do I have to do this?”, and
2) “Are we getting graded on this?”
Tim asked a few elementary school colleagues about collaboration opportunities.
“Initially, I was thinking of a reading-buddies arrangement,” Tim explains. “I wanted my students to have some fun, but I wanted them to think about making a difference in the lives of others – to think about giving back somehow to the school community.”
Tim’s ideas were about to get an upgrade. Enter Rachel Easley.
Rachel is a second grade teacher who recently returned from the World Maker Faire in New York City. Also, Rachel is a founding member of our school’s Experience-Based Learning Opportunities team. Reading buddies would be cool and all, Rachel told Tim. But, a hands-on learning experience would be WAY cooler.
Without hesitation, Tim jumped on board.
“My students were exhibiting that seventh grade malaise and I wanted to get them involved in something that would flip that switch inside them,” he explains. “After talking about a maker activity with Rachel, I knew this was exactly what they needed.”
Rachel challenged the second graders and the seventh graders to design and build toys using only recycled materials.
The results have been outstanding. The seventh graders reconnected with the intrinsic joy of discovery and creation and the second-grade kids had an opportunity to explore leadership, share ideas, and to change their view of failure.
“My favorite student quote from this activity came from a boy who experienced a significant failure in his design,” Rachel said. “His response to failure was ‘It was a successful first try!’”
“Rachel is the brains and brawn behind this though,” Tim went on to express. “She really articulated what an experience based project looks like to a colleague who didn’t know really anything about the process or the idea behind it all: the loss of control, the worry about what a good result would be… Rachel started me off on a good path with this.”
Having done a few of these with my own students, the one major piece of advice I would include is to build in LOTS of clean up time. Things get messy and students tend to “forget” which messes they helped to create!
Experience based learning opportunities may appear a little chaotic, but take a look at the maker research out there (and try some maker projects in your own class) and you’ll see that amazing skills are being developed, like collaboration, innovation, problem-solving, and resilience.
We would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences with maker projects.