Maker Time Expectations
At the beginning of the year, as you develop essential agreements with students for procedures and activities, you'll want to try some high-success maker activities early on, both to establish a positive mentality about maker activities, and to set expectations for this kind of work. (For thoughts about getting comfortable with maker education, visit this blog post.)
My expectations for maker time are:
However, before I discuss or post these things with students, I do this activity with them. It is inevitably memorable and (mostly) a lot of fun for students, and I hope yours will benefit as well!
Maker Mindset Lesson Plan
For this lesson, you will need Play Doh for each student, a copy of Vincent Shadow, Toy Inventor by Tim Kehoe, and about 45 minutes.
A camera is optional, but highly recommended.
1) Play Doh Pencil Holders
Provide each student with a lump of Play Doh, and tell them to create the most interesting pencil holder they can create in four minutes. Don't give them any other directions, and don't allow them to incorporate other materials (like the can or paper) this time around.
2) Gallery Walk; Notice, Wonder, Photograph
When four minutes are up, all hands stop working. Invite students to move around the room to look at the creations, noticing things that are especially unique, or that work especially well for the purpose (of holding a pencil).
You may want to take pictures of the creations at this point.
3) Read Chapter 16 from Vincent Shadow, Toy Inventor by Tim Kehoe
Leave the Play Doh structures where they are and gather in a slightly different space with the Vincent Shadow book, open to page 79, beginning with the sentence, "Vincent pulled out his sculpture," in chapter 16. (You can start at the very beginning of chapter 16 if you like and if you have time.) Read to the end of the chapter.
4) The Heart of the Discussion
At this point, your students may be looking at you suspiciously. Say "I notice some of you are looking at me suspiciously," which will probably cause more of them to look suspicious. This is because the teacher smashes their sculptures in the garbage can in the chapter you just read, but he explains why at the end, and it's a really good reason! Talk about the reason a little with students - what is the teacher's point?
I tell my students that I will not destroy their sculptures in the garbage can. However, I will encourage them to destroy them and start over and create something new, because we know our first ideas aren't necessarily the best ones, and we know there is more great thinking where the first ideas came from.
There is often some pain associated with this for students, but they almost always decide to give it a try. We acknowledge that sometimes we have great first ideas, but we want to trust our capacity to come up with different ones, instead of becoming too attached to the first possibility we meet. (Also, to be honest, having the photographs to capture the first versions helps to alleviate the destruction stress quite a bit.)
5) Iterations - Try Again, Because You Can
Go back to the work space and create new pencil holders, using the same materials as before. Encourage students to try something wildly different from what they did the first time. After another four (or seven - whatever works for the group) minutes - stop working and do another tour of the pencil holders. Do a quick reflective check with hand signals - how many of them think their second efforts are more interesting and unique than their first efforts? Acknowledge the fact that some students may prefer their first ideas.
You can try again with self-paced destruction and re-creation in the time remaining, as students come up with several different ideas, trying unique approaches and solutions compared to what they did or saw before.
6) Wrap-Up Discussion: Take-Aways
As a wrap-up discussion, you can ask students these questions:
Throughout the year, as students invent, inquire, design, and build, you can refer back to this lesson and remind them that they have multiple great ideas waiting to be created.
Students can try this lesson again a few months later, and it's interesting to compare mindsets to the beginning of the year. They can also try it by combining pencil holders with a person next to them, or by adding other materials to the Play Doh (this can make it more difficult to take apart and reassemble).
Preparing the Play Doh
I have done this lesson with many groups of students, and in these photos, you can see we used the mini cans of Play Doh this time; students didn't have a lot of material to work with. They don't photograph as well as the bigger models, but the limit on materials actually forced students to pay more attention to details than they sometimes do with bigger quantities.
You can have students create their own Play Doh first with pretty basic ingredients - flour, salt, and food coloring - and the dough will store well in a sealed plastic bag. As students knead dough with food coloring, it can be pretty messy, so you may prefer to buy it or ask students to bring in their own Play Doh containers.
Instead of Pencil Holders
Instead of pencil holders, students can create warning signs, robots, fictional animals, equations, ant condos, or any number of other ideas.
Other Content Area Applications
I think this lesson applies well to math problem-solving and science, in that students who are fluent with different types of strategies can identify multiple possible solutions and evaluate which ones are most efficient and effective. Additionally, it supports a positive mindset about revision in writing, as well as re-reading to look at an issue from a different perspective. This is all another way to see that maker mindsets apply to many disciplines, so it's worthwhile skill to develop and practice with students.
I heard the idea of making pencil holders from Play Doh as a way to teach students that revision in writing is a natural part of that process - a teacher friend had gone to a workshop in St. Louis that shared this idea - I'm sorry I can't credit those presenters because I didn't attend that workshop and don't know their names. I have modified it to apply to maker activities and incorporated the passage from Vincent Shadow because it works so beautifully with the message about being confident in your own creativity, If you share it, I'd appreciate a link back to the Ideas for Learners website!
For links and resources about other maker activities, including Instant Challenges and Hour of Code, see Enrichment Ideas - Links and Resources.
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada.