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.

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