By Dr. Jacie Maslyk
In one of our sixth-grade classrooms, students are using recyclable materials to build prototypes of trampolines, using their knowledge of measurement, geometry, and some basic physics skills. While the teachers have taught this unit a number of times, it was only after the staff at the school began learning more about maker learning that they started to consider ways they could use it to enhance their math instruction and deepen student understanding.
Having a school makerspace gives teachers this ability to increase learning opportunities for students and design curricular opportunities that build connections across grade levels and content areas. While it may not be possible for every school to have a designated space, there are ways to ensure that every student has access to maker materials and resources. These materials can be used in classrooms, libraries, and other school spaces. Whether maker learning happens within a dedicated makerspace or through a hands-on after-school program, when it is infused directly into the curriculum it becomes meaningful.
Making outside of the curriculum certainly has value, as it brings important learning skills to the forefront, but to have the most meaning, our students need to be engaged in making that connects to the learning happening throughout their core subject areas.
Instead of letting making be an afterthought or trying to squeeze it in just to say that you are doing it, find areas of your content that can be supported by hands-on learning. When you begin to incorporate maker learning into the classroom, it’s inevitable that you’ll start seeing more connections throughout your daily work. After including hands-on making in an English language arts lesson, you might start seeing ways to incorporate it into social studies or math. Making can provide an added layer of understanding for students in geography, writing, and environmental studies. You’ll also start getting ideas for health, history, or music, in addition to the core subject areas. Every subject can be lifted up by the inclusion of simple maker strategies.
Uncovering maker learning throughout the curriculum takes time and attention, but when we reflect on the places where making can enhance our instruction, we find a number of reasons why it’s important, including the following:
Below are some examples of how to apply making in the classroom.
Despite our best efforts as educators, when concepts are abstract some students cannot develop the level of understanding required. Sometimes we need to tap into multiple modalities in order for students to make a learning connection with intangible ideas. This is where making comes in! When visual representations, discussions, or even simulations don’t drive home the point, incorporating hands-on learning can help make the abstract idea concrete.
Classroom Example: Seventh-grade science students learned about cells. They explored the topic in their textbook. They studied different cells under a microscope. They even used virtual reality headsets to explore cells, but for some students, the idea of cell walls and a nucleus were just not concrete. We can give students a hands-on way to represent these ideas by having them build a cell using Play-Doh or K’NEX. This takes their knowledge of the cell and makes it visible.
When students are engaged in making, they are faced with a number of decisions. Through the planning and design phase to material selection, students have decisions to make. Since maker tasks don’t come with a clear set of directions, student outcomes will vary. This means that throughout the making, students have choices about what they will make, how they will solve problems they may encounter, and how they will share their learning.
Design challenges are one way to activate decision-making skills. You can connect these hands-on challenges to curricular content and activate problem-solving, collaboration, and creative thinking.
Classroom Example: In a fourth-grade classroom, students were presented with a team challenge that required them to design solutions to problems within their school community. The challenge connected knowledge from English language arts with the content in social studies to provide an integrated approach to a study on community. Within this situation-based challenge, students needed to work together, decide on group roles, and select materials. The interactions within the student groups required them to understand not only the content, but also possess the people skills needed to successfully navigate small-group work.
For the challenge “What might you design to improve the cafeteria/lunch experience in school?” one group designed prototypes for different seating arrangements. Another group sketched murals to decorate the walls. Another group designed a recycling system to reduce the garbage in the lunchroom. Yet another group responded to the challenge by creating a blueprint of an outdoor space that could be used during lunch. Imagine the dozens of decisions that had to be made in order to bring the solutions to this challenge to fruition!
Maker learning is an example of a well-rounded learning experience, as it taps into multiple subjects and multiple skill sets in connected ways. When we incorporate maker learning into the existing curriculum, students must use knowledge from multiple subject areas and skills. This can include the musical talent, artistic abilities, or mathematical mindset of our learners.
Making embraces the content from all subject areas and blurs the lines between them. In a makerspace, math carries over into science and language arts slides into social studies. When students have a well-rounded educational experience, they are given the chance to express themselves in creative ways within the curriculum.
Classroom Example: Students in a third-grade social studies class busily worked in small groups. Students worked to demonstrate their understanding of concepts around geography and culture and each had a task that required them to use their maker skills within the context of the curriculum. One group represented their knowledge artistically, creating a physical model of an Australian community. Another group worked on a video presentation about the food, music, art, and culture of their families’ heritage. Other students worked collaboratively to build a digital book to showcase their learning. The learning experiences encompassed content knowledge from almost every subject area.
Integrating opportunities to make into your curriculum may feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. When you actively explore maker learning, you can uncover a variety of ways to connect to your curriculum, and the more you explore those pathways, the more connections you’ll find.
Start by investigating the content within your curriculum. Look for opportunities to connect subject areas together and embed hands-on maker learning into your daily work. Weaving these within your curriculum will highlight the importance of maker learning and foster the development of a creative mindset that will prepare your students for future success.