Top Ten List: How to get started with making in the classroom

This is possibly the question I hear most frequently – “Where do I start incorporating making in my classroom?” I wish there was a single, simple answer! But here are a couple of ideas of where to start.

1. Start with your kids – What are their interests? What would they like to make? It may take some time to get beyond the typical answers, but a patient and non-judgemental listening session (or two or ten) might spark a few ideas. Success with a few projects might get the ball rolling for others that really push the envelope.

2. Bring in the cool. Sure a 3D printer is cool, but there are lots of things out there in the world that might make your students wonder “how did they do that?” leading to “How can I do that?” Remember show and tell and current events? How about following some science websites and bringing in things to inspire, or have your students try to find the coolest new technology to share. Let students collect from sites like NASA for Students, while you do some curating yourself by keeping up with sites or How To Smile. You will need to curate on these sites, because just because people post projects doesn’t mean they actually work or are appropriate for your classroom. Or for stories like the “Robot Swarm” coming out of the cutting edge labs at Harvard. Who doesn’t want to speculate on what a robot swarm is, could do, or how it might be created? Worried about understanding Arduinos or figuring out Raspberry Pi? If your kids are old enough to use it, they (some of them at least) should be old enough to do the legwork on what to buy, download, how to set up, and then DO it. Don’t be the perfection bottleneck, be the master of cool!

3. OK, do some shopping. I know, I’ve said a million times – Making is not a shopping list or a special place, it’s a stance towards learning. However, bringing some new things into the classroom can be fun and spark a lot of new making potential. A favorite for all grades is the MaKey MaKey. Check out the amazing videos on their website, project ideas and even detailed guides shared by other educators and makers. And don’t forget, you can go “shopping” in your own space – what about those gadgets and broken things that got shoved into the closet? Can you fix or repurpose them? Can students bring in things from home that need fixing? If you want to see what we buy for our Invent To Learn workshops,check out our shopping page with bonus handouts for different centers, and our super-cool TMI Robot Poster.

4. Check in with other maker educators. You are in good company! There are lots of educators asking this question and hurray for the Internet, there are starting to be more answers. Check out:

5. See what others have shared and share your own! There is a growing list of maker education resources created by the members of the K-12 FabLab Google Group.  The Invent To Learn resource page has resources organized into useful categories.

6. Read up! I humbly suggest you start with Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, because this is exactly why we wrote the book. Ready for more? See a list of books that will inspire, inform, and instigate!

7. Check local. Your local museum, library, or community college may be planning or implementing a makerspace. There are many community makerspaces sprouting up around the US and worldwide. Don’t be afraid of the term “hackerspace” – it may seem edgier and not really appropriate for school, but it’s likely you will find the same kinds of people passionate about making and changing the world.

8. Give it a go. The Maker Movement for education is like channeling MacGuyver. Remember that 80’s TV show where the hero’s main superpower was fixing the world with a paperclip and twisty tie? OK, that was fake, but you can do more than you think just by trying something, refining it, and trying it again. And if you notice, that’s exactly what iterative design is. Why let the kids have all the fun? Try some iterative design on your classroom and see what happens. You can check off the standards you saw being met after you are done.

By the way, one of the best parts of the maker education movement is that it’s NOT new. It fits right in with what we know about real learning and good classroom practice. Chapters 4-6 in the book paint a picture of how tried and true PBL models fit the modern maker classroom such as: What does a maker classroom look like? What does a teacher do? Where do you start and how do you get your students on board? Resources for Chapters 4-6.

9. Be brave, not a martyr. You know where you live and work better than anyone else. Decide what to do, and then be bold. Take it 20% further than where you might have gone in the past. In fact, be “unreasonable” – you have my permission. Whatever you do, go for it. You want to be the “good” example in this post of “good, bad, worse” implementations.

10. Involve parents and students. The most effective allies and advocates for your cause will be students, but you have to share your newfound insight and enthusiasm with them. Ask students to support making, by being helpers, TAs, your support system, experts, etc. This walks the talk of student-centered learning and is a wonderful experience for students. Go beyond the usual suspects and bring in students who might really benefit from being the expert in the coolest thing on campus. Student leaders create a culture that is self-sustaining, leading away from everything being generated by adults to students understanding that they can be effective leaders and learners. Many parents too, are finding that the school culture of test prep isn’t serving their families. Ask them how they feel, how they learn best, and then SHOW them what real learning looks like in a hands-on classroom. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, as Gary says, “People can’t choose from what they haven’t seen.”

I’d love to hear more about YOU got started! Share your story and inspire others.

Podcast: The Maker Movement – The Promise and Pitfalls

Click here to listen to the podcast

At ISTE 2014, Ginger Lewman and I recorded a podcast hosted by Don Wettrick called InnovatED – Tomorrow’s Education Innovations Today, on the BAM Radio Network.

We talked about the connection between project-based learning and the Maker Movement, best practices, and potential pitfalls. Plus had a ton of fun! Take a listen 😉

The Maker Movement:The Promise and Pitfalls
Sylvia Martinez is co-author of Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering the Classroom, a book that has been called the “bible of the maker movement for classrooms”. She speaks and writes around the world to advocate for authentic learning using real world design principles, modern technology, and hands-on experiences. Ginger Lewman, @GingerLewman, works at ESSDACK, a nonprofit educational service center. She is a Keynoter & Consultant; Google Certified Teacher; Silo Killer; Co-Creator Life Practice PBL and a teacher of Project Based Learning.

Click here to listen to the podcast




A leadership blueprint for the modern, connected world

Scott McLeod of the Dangerously Irrelevant blog has been asking for posts on leadership for seven years now on what he calls “Leadership Day”. This is a great emerging resource with so many interesting perspectives – almost 500 blog posts! I’ve participated in some years, with my own range of perspectives (see below).

In the past few years my focus has shifted from student leadership to the new affordances of the Maker Movement in K-12  classrooms. Since writing Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, my perspective has changed, but in many ways, also reinforced what I already knew about the power of student agency and ownership of their own learning.

The Maker Movement is a global learning revolution that offers a way to look at leadership in a new way that is relevant for both schools and communities.

For example, in this video architects in Amsterdam talk about the process of designing a 3D printer big enough to build a house, building that printer, and then starting to print the house. When you watch this video, there is an interesting part where they decide to put the KamerMaker (roombuilder) out on the front lawn of their office so that the community can come and see what’s going on and offer their perspectives.

KamerMaker from 3D Print Canal House on Vimeo.

Leadership in the Maker Movement doesn’t mean “I do, you repeat” – it means that together we are better. It may seem messy and inefficient to some people, but I think it’s a leadership model for the modern, connected world we live in.

Here are my previous Leadership Day posts:

  • 2007 – Leaders of the Future where I focused on developing the leader in every learner.
  • 2008 – Just Do It where I urged administrators to stop waiting for the district reorg or the next version of Windows or that bandwidth you were promised 3 years ago and get moving. Listen to kids, don’t listen the teachers who can’t seem to manage an email account, damn the torpedos and full steam ahead.
  • 2009 – Every day is leadership day in which I wrote about the connection between “agency” (meaning true choice) and leadership. Leadership is only meaningful when people have an actual choice to follow or not follow. Leadership is inextricably bound to free will, in the same way democracy is. In schools, this must happen every day, at every level of participation.
  • 2010 – What Leadership Looks Like talks about the challenge we face when trying to describe leadership when it’s so dependent on context and personal style. How can we say “what works” if this is so variable?

I invite you to read the other posts made on the subject of Leadership Day and perhaps write your own. What does leadership look like to you?


Back to School with Making in the Classroom – Should I start now or wait?

You may have heard that it’s best to “ease” into hands-on project-based learning at the start of the school year. Maybe you feel your students aren’t ready, need some skills development, or just need to have a few weeks of settling down before getting started with more independent work.

Good teachers know that students learn a lot more when they get their hands on real materials, and get to do their own projects and experiments. But sometimes we get frustrated thinking about the students who won’t cooperate, don’t clean up, waste materials, or misbehave during our hands-on learning time. In my work as a science teacher and coach, I’ve seen teachers who decide to delay lab activities until behavior is rock-solid. Instead of starting off with a bang, they tiptoe toward inquiry learning.

from Teacher Magazine: Teaching Secrets: How to Maximize Hands-On Learning.

The author, Anthony Cody is an award-winning science teacher, and this article has some great ideas, tips and practical suggestions for all grades and subject areas. He goes on:

My experience is in science, but many teachers of social studies, English, math, and other subjects also have great success with hands-on, minds-on activities. I’d bet some of my colleagues in these other content areas also feel the urge to keep kids in lockdown mode until full teacher authority has been established.

I think this is a big mistake.

Here are his reasons:

  • You need to lead with your best foot.
  • When you introduce cool activities the first few weeks, you are setting the stage for an exciting year.

Be sure to read his full explanation and tips for getting the school year started off right with hands-on. Teaching Secrets: How to Maximize Hands-On Learning.

I’m also sure that many teachers feel that they have students who aren’t “ready” for a more independent approach to learning. However, how will they get ready if they don’t practice it? Many teachers tell me that students have to be “unschooled” out of practices like constantly expecting to be told what to do. So why not start to build those habits and expectations on day one?

That doesn’t mean that you have to start with a monumental project. Start with something small. Give the students time to explore, invent, and tinker sooner rather than wait. If it’s chaos, you can add some constraints, but don’t give up! Give them time to learn the tools you want them to get good at with smaller, more contained projects that will build their confidence and skills.

Empowering students to believe in themselves as capable of making things that matter, both in the physical and digital world, is a crucial part of learning.

So whatever you call it, making, project-based learning, hands-on, or inquiry learning – the time to start is always NOW!

My favorites list for classroom making and makerspaces at ISTE 2014

sylvia 21st century learningThe International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) conference is right around the corner – June 28 – July 1, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the biggest US-based event for K-12 educational technology, and people from around the world will be there to see the latest stuff and to hear the newest ideas for technology and computers in education.

This year there is a big focus on “making” in the classroom – which I’m glad to be a part of! Last year it felt pretty lonely to be one of the only speakers talking about it. But this year, there are numerous events and sessions about making, maker education, and many hands-on and PBL sessions as well.

I’ve created a “favorite list” of some of the conference sessions and Maker “Playgrounds” happening at ISTE. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to share it from their site, but here they are with just an old fashioned copy/paste! Even then, the links don’t work and even if I was ambitious enough (I’m not) to try to relink them, the sessions are in popup boxes so they don’t have unique links. A missed opportunity, I think, ISTE. As Oprah knows, favorites are meant to be shared! Here is a link to the ISTE program search for you do-it-yourselfers.

Friday, June 27

Hack Education (I’ll be here!)
Friday, June 27, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
GWCC B303/304

Mobile Mega Share (I’ll be here!)
Friday, June 27, 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, June 28

DON’T MISS! –> Invent To Learn@ISTE 2014 workshop – robots, programming, electronic papercraft and sewing, 3D printing, and much more (plus lunch), lead by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager. Don’t miss out, registration is limited (not an ISTE sponsored event).

Sunday, June 29

Technology transforms pedagogy: Combining the tools and the vision
Sunday, June 29, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
GWCC B303/304

Student tech leaders to support digital transformation
Sunday, June 29, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 5

Genius hour 20% time: Best practices inspire creativity not chaos (I’ll be on this panel)
Sunday, June 29, 12:45 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.
GWCC Sidney Marcus Auditorium

Designing your makerspace
Sunday, June 29, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 9

Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center: Inner-City Baltimore Youth Makerspace
Sunday, June 29, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 41

The Maker Movement: Interactive electronics without programming
Sunday, June 29, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 2

Invent to learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom (Gary Stager)
Sunday, June 29, 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

STEM in K-5: Beebots to WeDo!
Sunday, June 29, 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Monday, June 30

Build your world: Mobile makerspace at the Mobile Learning Playground (I’ll be here – speaking towards the end)
Monday, June 30, 9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
GWCC Building B, Level 3 (near Room B313)

School 2.0: Where are we headed
Monday, June 30, 10:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

Student engagement: Best practices for inquiry-driven, project-based strategies
Monday, June 30, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Making sense of maker education
Monday, June 30, 1:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 38

STEAM (science-tinkering-aesthetics-engineering-math): Creating a maker culture
Monday, June 30, 1:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 9

Creating a makerspace: Makey Makey and Scratch
Monday, June 30, 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Design your school’s R&D
Monday, June 30, 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Merging mobile, makers, and science education
Monday, June 30, 5:15 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Exploring earth and space science: Hands-on littleBits STEAM activities
Monday, June 30, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
GWCC A311/312

Tuesday, July 1

Maker’s Playground and agile learning environments
Tuesday, July 1, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
GWCC Building A, Level 3 (near Room A313)

Top 10 classroom tools of the maker movement (Sylvia Martinez)
Tuesday, July 1, 10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom 3/4

Enriching elementary geometry curriculum with 3D printing
Tuesday, July 1, 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

ISTE Mobile Learning Network: Merging mobile with the maker movement
Tuesday, July 1, 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
GWCC Murphy Ballroom 1/2

Educational technology and makerspaces
Tuesday, July 1, 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.

Learn How to Use a 3D Printer – Right Now!
Tuesday, July 1, 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.
GWCC Tech Infrastructure Pavilion (booth 2448)

Be a part of FabLearn 2014!

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 11.44.58 AMIf you are an educator incorporating “making” in your classroom, or just thinking about it, consider attending FabLearn 2014 this Fall. Held on the beautiful Stanford campus, it’s an opportunity to see the FabLab in action, and meet other like-minded educators from around the world.

I’m the “social media” co-chair of FabLearn 2014 and that means you’ll be hearing a lot more from me about this conference!

Conference website

But don’t just come and listen – share your ideas, projects, and talent with everyone! The deadline has been extended for contributions – all ideas welcome!

Submissions website (new deadline: June 14, 2014)

FabLearn 2014 invites submissions for its fourth annual conference, to be held on October 25-26, 2014 at Stanford University. FabLearn is a venue for educators, policy-makers, students, designers, researchers, and makers to present, discuss, and learn about digital fabrication in education, the “makers” culture, and hands-on, constructionist learning. We are seeking submissions for contributors to our Workshops, Student Showcase Panel, Educator Panel, Research Panel (Full paper), Poster Session (Short paper), and Demo Session.

I have been to this conference for two years in a row now, and it’s really a place to learn new things and have the kinds of conversations with amazing people who are doing amazing things around the world!

FabLearn Fellows 2014

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be formally working with the first cadre of FabLearn Fellows as a mentor and advisor.

This program is a part of a NSF-sponsored project entitled “Infusing Learning Sciences Research into Digital Fabrication in Education and the Makers’ Movement.” The 2014 FabLearn Fellows cohort is a diverse group of 18 educators and makers. They represent eight states and five countries, and work with a wide range of ages at schools, museums, universities and non-profits. They have agreed to contribute to high-impact research and outreach to answer the following questions:

  • How can we generate an open-source set of constructionist curricular materials well-adapted for Makerspaces and FabLabs in educational settings?
  • How are teachers adapting their own curriculum in face of these new “making” technologies, and how can they be better supported? What challenges do teachers face when trying to adopt project-based, constructionist, digital fabrication activities in their classrooms and after-school programs?
  • How are schools approaching teacher development, parental/community involvement, and issues around traditional assessment?

I’m excited to help support the FabLearn Fellows. I believe that too often, researchers and practitioners in education are isolated from one another. As a result, we lose incredible opportunities to learn and share.

I’ll be sharing more as time goes on!

Measuring Making

One of the most common questions people ask me is “How do we measure the success of our maker program?” We cover this in our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. However, I think there are more details that I can help with.

This is different than assessing student learning in specific subjects. I touched on assessment of maker projects in this blog post and hope to talk more about this soon. But what I’m going to talk about in this post is how to show that your program as a whole is a success.

First of all, you need to think about “success” – this is more difficult than it looks! In many cases, maker education initiatives are trying to go beyond test scores and grades into areas that are more difficult to quantify. You may be interested in increasing student empowerment, self-efficacy, interest in STEM, attitudes, or  problem-solving. So how do you do that?

Measuring affective changes in students is possible. Lots of people think that you can’t measure or quantify these kinds of things but you can. I believe it’s best to approach it both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Quantitative evaluation can be done with validated instruments and surveys you may be able to find and reuse. You may have to do a bit of research to narrow down exactly what you want to measure. For example, if you are looking for improvements in attitude, I did a quick Google search and came up with these this and  this. (I’m not recommending these, you need to find ones that best match your goals.) There have been many recent surveys about youth attitudes towards technology, STEM, and school in general. I would also look for “self-efficacy” surveys, and surveys that your district or state may already be using that ask students about their attitudes towards school, interest in STEM, etc.

Why bother doing this? If you use the same survey (or just take a few questions) that others use, you can compare your results with them. It’s powerful to be able to say, “The national data says x% of students in grade 8 are interested in STEM careers, but in our school, it’s risen from x% to y% in the year since we’ve implemented our maker program.”

However, I think it is even more powerful to create your own data. Ask people (parents, students, teachers, administrators) what they think about any program you run and use Likert scales to get data from their answers. Do pre/post surveys. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like “How do you feel your capacity to solve problems has changed?” or “Have you seen an increase in your child’s interest in science?”  Make the data you want to tell the story you want.

Finally,  make sure you are asking your participants and stakeholders to show and tell you what success looks like. Capture your stakeholders (all of them, especially students) on video as much as possible. Ask the same questions over and over again and you will have a compelling and powerful case. Take photos, videos, and screenshots not just of the finished projects, but the process. Combine quantitative data with documentation of projects, personal stories, anecdotes, and evidence of success. This will build your case better than data alone or stories alone.

But you must start NOW! Don’t wait to collect data, do surveys, and take video. Decide NOW what you think this picture of success looks like and start collecting the evidence. This blog post covers a workshop process that will help you decide what to ask and how to create those types of data stories.

With data, video, photos, events, and anecdotes, you can paint a complete and compelling picture of the success of your Maker educational initiative.