When you hear “maker movement,” do you have visions of children shrieking while swinging from the fluorescent chandeliers? Do you get hives thinking about the lack of structure? Do you fail to see what all the fuss is about? If the maker movement has you feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or doubtful, here are some considerations for you.
Rationale & Reality
Avoidance can’t be the answer. We don’t avoid teaching kids to walk or ride bikes even though we know they will inevitably fall and get injured. We understand the goal is worthwhile enough to struggle through the bumps and bruises. Facing creative problem-solving is similarly worthwhile. In case I’m losing some doubtful readers who are thinking “no real-world scenario requires you to build the tallest possible tower from Legos,” you are correct. But no real-world scenario ever requires you to fill out 30 multiplication problems, either – it’s practice for more complex thinking. The Lego tower is the same, except it is building multiple intellectual skills at the same time, instead of one specific academic skill.
The purpose of maker education, then, is to give students opportunities to practice the following:
Additionally, students acquire skills from work with specific materials, which might include coding, spatial awareness, engineering, visual and performing arts, multi-media creation, and more.
That’s a lot of bang for an instructional buck.
Still, here are some worries and objections I’ve heard educators pose with regard to maker activities. Let’s take a minute to unpack these concerns.
"Maker activities are too loud and hard to manage"
It is louder than some class lessons. There’s really no way around that. But you can teach appropriate processes for the activities, just as you would for getting out math manipulatives or going out for recess. You are going to have some bumps in management at first, but you can refine those things, just as you refine your reading and math instruction to make it more effective.
Here are a few starting guidelines you and your students are free to borrow, adapt, and try for maker activities:
Another way to keep it manageable at first is to have a small number of items for students to work with, because it’s not so time-consuming to pass out, set up, or collect afterward. As you all become accustomed to procedures, you can try challenges with a wider range of materials.
“Maker Education sounds nice, but there’s not enough time.”
There’s not enough time to allow students to face an open-ended problem in a safe environment and have them use multiple strategies and then compare the effectiveness and methods of their different solutions? Because that whole process sounds like excellent math and science instruction. On top of that, students get practice communicating with each other while they work (a critical skill), and when they present (also important). In fact, scroll up and read the list of all those skills again. When you think about it, if you are going to use your precious instructional minutes for any single activity, this is a valuable use of time.
I want to fully acknowledge the challenge of time, too, because most educators are asked to do far too many things each day, and often feel they come up short. It’s difficult to voluntarily add more to your plate when it’s been loaded by too many obligations you didn’t select in the first place.
I recommend you take one worksheet or activity you know is not working for your students, and replace that with one maker activity. Just one, at first. See what happens. See what the students like about it, and how it might be easier than you expected, and how you could improve it if you did it again later. Then try it again later. You don’t have to overhaul everything at the same time – just make small changes. They’ll take you where you want to go.
“It’s not on the test, so why should I bother?”
This one hurts. There are so many meaningful things that aren’t on that test, including love, kindness, empathy, integrity, health, and innovation. Just because no one has figured out a standardized way to measure something doesn’t make it less important. In five or ten or twenty years, that child’s ability to empathize and innovate will matter far more than a test score. Although there can be a lot of pressure for students to earn ever-rising test scores, professional educators cannot be driven by testing to make every instructional decision. Make time for what's important. Bother because you know it matters.
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada.