I know the holiday season is far behind us, but I wanted to share some details about a tree ornament project I did.
I had just completed a unit on the development of the US government. We looked at the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, the Virginia and New Jersey Plans, the Great Compromise, checks and balances, etc. As we neared the end of the unit, I thought about how I could assess the understanding of this new government among my students.
Inspired by the holiday spirit (and the maker ed team I belong to at school) I came up with a Christmas tree ornament activity.
I challenged students to take the abstract idea of the new US government and express it in the actual form of an object – an object to hang on a Christmas tree.
The students were, at first, excited about the opportunity to do something in class besides listening to me or having to write. But, soon their joy quickly turned to frustration as they struggled with the challenge. How do you translate the three branches of government into an ornament?
To prepare for this activity, I had scrounged together a collection of materials:
- Red, white and blue pipe cleaners
- Colored paper
- Paper clips
- Elastic bands
- Scraps of Christmas wrapping paper
- Colored popsicle sticks
Some of it I bought, while other items I borrowed from our middle school maker room.
Safeguard your Supplies
An important tip I learned is to budget the materials among all your classes. Do not make all of the materials available to your first class. Students tend to take more than they need, and they tend to “use” more than they need as they experiment/tinker with ideas. If you are not careful, one class could burn through all your resources, leaving subsequent classes with nothing. Organize the materials by class and then hide the piles from each group.
As the students worked, I moved around the room. As per good maker practice, I did not help the students. I simply offered encouragement and, where necessary, threw out general details about the new US government – three branches, checks and balances, complicated, concern about dictatorship, equality, democracy, etc.
In terms of producing beautiful Christmas tree ornaments, this activity was a disaster! But, as an exercise in a) understanding the new US government, and b) turning the abstract into the actual, I think it was a success. The students really had to know the government on a deep level – both the structure and the purpose – in order to reflect it as an object.
And, they learned a lot about imagination, failure, prototyping, problem solving, and teamwork.
Take a look at the photos below. If you have any maker experiences you’d like to share, or if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me.