Tag Archives: Maker Movement

Making for Halloween

As a parent, I find the Fall “holidays” a bit draining. Why is everything stacked on top of each other? First, it’s the Fall semester (for college), which is always busier than Spring, and second, it’s college football season! There’s just not enough time for holidays (she says, tongue in cheek). Yet, we parents (mostly moms) are expected to create a fabulous experience for our children, all while stressing ourselves out even more.

Making for Halloween

I sound a bit whiny today, don’t I? And here it is, the day before Halloween. I’m not complaining, truly. I recognize that I live a blessed life. Rather, the above sentiment was my mood earlier this week. I am incredibly busy at work right now, but also trying to maintain our other commitments (healthy food & homeschooling). So, when my younger son came to me Friday afternoon and needed help making his Halloween costume…well, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the endeavor. But once we go started, everything clicked into place. The artistic nature of “making” energized me.  It was fun to be making for Halloween. I was able to get into the flow of creating…and pretty soon, I was a lot more relaxed (and a lot closer to a finished Halloween costume).

a picture of a boy making for halloween

C, age 8, painting his Halloween costume.

Crafting for Halloween

I’d like to say that I inspired the boys, but really it was the other way around. Earlier in the week, they made their own Halloween decorations and hung them around the house. Today, we were reviewing a book and they were inspired to create a few other decorations.

A picture of a boy making for halloween

R, age 11, was inspired to create a paper jack-o-lantern.

I’m sure I bring on some of the holiday stress myself; I’m not willing to participate fully in the consumer nature of these holidays, but we still try to be a part of the experience. Our neighborhood is full of excitement at Halloween, and the kids love that they get to hang out with their friends at night. So, we participate…and my husband tells me I’m not allowed to pass out pencils. (This year, I’m opting for Earthbound lollipops and lunch snacks…yeah, I’m that parent).

When the kids were younger, I didn’t buy stuff because we didn’t have the money. As they got older, I didn’t buy stuff because I didn’t want to store it all year. At least, those were the reasons I told myself. I think the real reason is that I wanted to create a “maker” culture in our home.

a picture of a very large piece of loose-leaf paper made from cardboard.

C decided he wanted to be a piece of paper (and a pencil). He painted the white background, and I added the details.

Maker Mindset

For their homemade decorations, the boys didn’t ask for help – they just grabbed the art supplies (and their secret stash of tape) and started drawing. They didn’t ask for directions or permission. It was assumed they were allowed to hang up toilet paper from the front windows. (Front windows – yes; mailbox – no).

I was feeling pretty stressed out this week, but after seeing (and appreciating) my boys’ maker mindset, I felt a lot better. It takes a lot of work to support a maker culture, but the extra time and energy is worth it.

Dad contributed his talents to creating this cardboard pencil.

A picture of a woman's arm with a hummingbird, flowers and butterfly airbrushed on it.

I wanted to continue to spread the “maker” love by showing off my airbrushed tattoos (all done by a veterinarian, no less). There’s all sorts of making for Halloween!

 

Book Review :: Musical Inventions

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

a picture of the book, Musical Inventions, by Kathy Ceceri

Make has such pretty books these days. All of Ceceri’s books have been printed with color pictures.

It always takes me a long time to review a book. I need to let it sit on my desk for awhile. I want the information to turn over in my head, which allows my brain to make connections to my prior knowledge. I hate shallow reviews. I understand that time is often, of the essence, but it’s difficult to trust a person’s word if they’ve only had the book for a week or so. I mean, how can you know if the book is any good if it hasn’t sat with you for awhile? I have let Kathy Ceceri’s latest book, Musical Inventions, sit on my desk for quite a few months. All in the name of authenticity…

Musical Inventions by Kathy Ceceri

While there is some truth to the above statement, there is also a funny set of events that contributed to its floundering on my desk beneath an important set of papers. It started with a bit of bad timing. When this lovely book arrived on my doorstep in May, we had one foot out the door, in anticipation of a wonderful three-week vacation (which included Washington, DC, Pennsylvania and Quebec). When we returned, I immediately began teaching at summer camp. Following that madness, the Fall semester began at the college where I work…and thus, I’m just now publishing this review.

It’s a long-winded excuse, yes? Sigh. In some ways, it is. I was hoping to get the book reviewed earlier, but I also wanted to try out more of the projects. It seems there’s never enough time to do all of the projects – just a few. Ha! As if I needed a fun, hands-on book to tell me that my life is full.

Plus, I have to confess a little secret: music isn’t really my thing. Oh sure, I love singing along to Hamilton as much as the rest of my family, but when it comes to sound, noise and music, my guitar-playing husband is the one who brings such beauty to our home.

So I did what any sensible, non-musical person would do: I handed the book over to my husband and asked him to try out some of the projects with the kids.

DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck and Switch On

Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Musical Inventions: DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck, and Switch On. Make Media: San Fransisco, 2017. Target Audience: science, music & homeschool teachers; parents of upper elementary, middle and high school students.

As with all of Ceceri’s Make books, this tome includes a lot of fun, hands-on projects coupled with real-life connections to individuals and scientific concepts. It only took a few pages before I was hooked. In the first chapter, she mentioned the discovery of a 42,000 year-old flute, found in a cave in 2012. It was made from the tusk of a woolly mammoth. That is so cool! People have been making music for thousands of years. Art and music have always been a part of our culture. Just like the cave art in Lascaux.

After a brief description of the history of music, she goes on to describe how sound works, in addition to the basics of music theory and notation. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a simple book. It’s not. Although the projects are for beginners, there is some heavy teaching going on within these pages. I could definitely see a middle or high school teacher using some of these projects to demonstrate physical science concepts.

Packing Tape Bass Drum

a picture of a hand-made drum from the book, Musical Inventions

A little bit of tape and some popcorn makes a nice drum set.

Since I handed the book off to my musically-inclined husband, all I had to do was sit back, quietly observe, and wait to snap a few pictures. During a long weekend break, my husband pulled out the book and proceeded to test out the “Packing Tape Bass Drum” project. It was the perfect time for a project: the kids were restless and we had all of the materials on hand [clear packing (or masking) tape, a can opener and two round cans (or plastic cups)].

They easily made the drums, which were happily taken home by our neighbor, a girl who lives across the street. She also has a musically-inclined father and I hope they played a duet later that evening.

a picture of two homemade drums made out of tape and clear plastic drink glasses, from the book, Musical Inventions.

My hubby improvised with some of the materials, but the result was the same: homemade drums.

My husband also messed around with the “Turntable Water Glasses” project, but I was too slow to capture it on camera. All told, this book could keep a family busy for days. It would also be a great start for a new science concept, or a way to cap off an in-depth project-based learning physics course. For me, I found the projects on circuit bending to be the most interesting…and hope to mess around with those in the future. If you are impatient, or want to try out one of her projects before grabbing the book, check out her tutorial on creating a low-tech music box.

Maker Movement and Learning

I have long been a fan of Ceceri’s work. As a former homeschool mom, she has created lots of interesting projects that connect learning with real-life applications. Science (and history and writing) are fascinating, but only if a student can make those connections. It’s only stimulating if a student is interested. I think the maker movement gives students a reason to be excited. I hope that every parent considers purchasing one of these books for their child’s teacher…and offers to provide some of the supplies, as well.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.

 

Art Lab :: Minecraft Paper Sculptures

As part of our ongoing series, the boys are testing projects from the book, Art Lab for Kids. This week’s lab: paper sculptures. They don’t have to be Minecraft-related, but in my house, Minecraft is always on the brain. The kids’ brains anyway, not mine.

Check out the past Art Lab posts: book review and reverse color underpainting.

a picture of a paper Minecraft sword. Inspried by the book, Art Lab for Kids

C, age 8, made a Minecraft sword. All of those cuts too him a long time….not to mention the stapling!

Minecraft Paper Sculptures

So…you may be thinking: Minecraft, eh? I thought they were learning about art!

Yes, it seems like they just made toys for this particular lab, but the concept was the same. They created a stuffed paper sculpture, but instead of a fish (the given example), they took a familiar idea and ran with it. Even though I do try to discourage consumerism and branding, this was a great pairing. (Besides, I may have a thing for Harry Potter and the Florida Gators…some branding is allowed, and possibly encouraged). Anyway, the boys were super excited about this lab, and they had to use the design thinking process to figure out how their sculptures were going to work.

 

a picture of a green construction paper being used for paper minecraft sculptures. Inspired by the book, Art Lab for Kids.

R (age 11) made a complicated creeper and had to sketch out his design ahead of time.

Crafting to Retain Information

It should be no surprise that we do a lot of arts and crafts at our house. What I find surprising is how much information my kids retain when they make something. Our crafting isn’t just limited to “art time.” Over the years, we have done a number of suggested crafts from our social studies curriculum, Story of the World. During the weeks when we “crafted,” the boys remembered the event much more clearly. I think it has something to do with the generative process of using information to create something new.

We are definitely one of those families that takes time to make things. We don’t cover as much material, but the topics are easily recalled.

a picture of paper sculpture Minecraft creeper and diamond sword

Creeper made by R, age 11. Sword made by C, age 8.

**This post was originally published on June 19, 2017. Sadly, it was deleted from the site when my server was switched. I have finally fixed the issue. (P.S. Don’t use GoDaddy for web site hosting. Their customer service is awful). **

Free to Make : Cardboard Box Cars

While I was working, the boys were left to their own devices. This meant they had a full morning free to do whatever they wanted, provided there was no power tool usage or video game playing. (The “new to us” band saw requires Dad’s supervision, and video games are reserved for the afternoon heat). Thankfully, we had some recent Amazon deliveries. Cardboard boxes! Woo!

a picture of an 8-year-old boy creating a car from a cardboard box.

C, age 8, is hard at work on his cardboard vehicle.

I’d like to tell you they were inspired by this book from the library, Out of the Box: 25 Cardboard Engineering Projects for Makers. But they weren’t. We didn’t even check that book out until AFTER these contraptions were built. Rather, these boys have always been fascinated with boxes. (As in, give that kid a box…instead of the toy). Thankfully, their projects have gotten more sophisticated as they’ve gotten older.

Made by R, age 11.

Cardboard Box Cars

Their favorite things to make are cars. Obviously. If you can’t drive a real one, there’s something satisfying about making your own. I am especially fond of the computerized system in my 11-year-old’s. I think he has too much Tesla on his mind.

a picture of a boy's cardboard car

An all-electric vehicle…complete with its own ipad.

Cardboard, Free Time & The Maker Movement

And in a somewhat coincidental twist, I finished reading Dale Dougherty’s Free to Make as they were working on their creations. Dougherty is the founder of Make Magazine and one of the people behind Maker Faire. I am very drawn to the maker movement, not just for myself and my children, but as an educator.

I was pretty familiar with most of the content, although it was interesting to see a slim chapter on how schools are incorporating “making.” I am looking forward to more educational research on the maker movement. I just wish we could combine “making” with environmentalism. Right now “making in schools” seems to incur a lot of waste.

I think we just need to find a way to recycle tape. For a short time, tape was banned at my house since it’s not recyclable. We still consume it in limited quantities due to the waste factor. Oh, the things my kids could make with more tape (and free time)!

C’s car has a working accelerating pedal. (His words, not mine).

Book Review – Edible Inventions

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A picture of the book, Edible Inventions.

Edible Inventions is written by Kathy Ceceri (a former homeschool mom)! Pictured next to the book are C’s homemade “Juicy Gelatin Dots.”

Ages: Teachers, Parents, Teens, Kids (with help)
Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Edible Inventions : Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, Bake, and Grow. Maker Media, 2016.

Edible Inventions = Kitchen Science

Ceceri’s latest contribution to the maker movement is a strange cross between cookbook and science textbook.  It’s a useful resource for teachers, parents and curious kids.

That being said, the title put me off – just a little. I wouldn’t have willingly picked up a book on edible inventions. It sounded too much like a cookbook. At our house, we have some food intolerance issues, and an aversion to sugar overload, so we do a lot of cooking. The last thing I want is more time in the kitchen (or a book that doesn’t respect those choices). In fact, some of the projects she showcases are ones we’ve done in the past. For example, we’ve made our own edible inventions (homemade marshmallows ) and have been composting (and gardening) for years.

Unlike her other books, I was familiar with most of the information presented because I’ve been cooking from scratch for decades (as opposed to creating with robotic legos). Just ask my family about my early failures – they are legend!  Obviously, I wasn’t expecting “a cookbook” to knock my socks off. However, like most of her books, Ceceri caught my eye in the very first chapter. I skimmed the table of contents until I saw this project: “Make a Hydraulic LEGO 3D Food Printer.”  It was at that moment I realized book covers (and titles) can be deceiving. This is a science textbook disguised as a cookbook.

Lego 3D Food Printer

In fact, once my oldest son playfully wrestled the book away from me, the first page he found described the pancake bot. This real-life invention is the inspiration for the food printer project. I love the idea that we can replicate one without using (or damaging) our EV3 brick. As a teacher, I want a real-life connection between the “craft project” and the information I’m presenting. Thankfully, Ceceri understands this concept completely. Learning can be fun, but there needs to be a bridge between the real world and the scaled down project.

In our “learning at home” life, the kids pick and choose their science interests. For many years, my oldest son has been enamored with computers, so he has stuck with Lego robotics, Scratch programming and First Lego League. I have not formally taught them chemistry (nor do I intend to do so), but a fellow homeschool parent did teach a basic chemistry class through our homeschool co-op. Some of the projects in this book (i.e. baked foam meringue cookies and juicy gelatin dots) would have been great compliments to that class – especially when talking about liquids, gases and chemical reactions.

Science Cookbook

Although the Lego project caught my eye, it was my youngest son who requested that we make something together. Both boys enjoy cooking, but my youngest seems to enjoy it more. He picked out the gelatin dots project, and after a slight delay (we had to chill the oil overnight), we were off.

picture of Great Lakes gelatin container, Grapeseed oil and POM juice, required ingredients for a project from the book, Edible Inventions.

Everything was easy to find at the store or in our pantry.

This project was surprisingly easy to make. My youngest son recently turned eight, but he made (most of) the gelatin dots on his own. Once his older brother saw what was happening, he swept in and asked for a chance to create. There was enough gelatin to share, so everyone had a chance to make (and eat) some jello-like dots.

A picture of a boy using a medicine dropper to create gelatin fruit dots from the book, Edible Inventions.

C is concentrating on creating perfect-size dots. Ceceri recommends a picnic-style ketchup or mustard dispenser, but we had an old, unused medicine dropper that worked just fine.

If you are so inclined, Ceceri provides an additional chemistry project to accompany these gelatin dots. With grape juice dots and lemonade, you could take this project further and introduce acids and bases. I think it would have been neat to include some additional “academic” connections here, perhaps some PH paper? Since this was for my eight-year-old, we ignored all formal learning and went with hands-on experimenting.

Conclusion

All of Ceceri’s books are well-researched and provide project details, background information and real-life connections. They are fabulous additions to any resource library and they offer a great way to get more hands-on, educational projects into your home or classroom.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.

Elementary Electronics – Sewn LED bracelet

As part of our homeschool elementary electronics class, the kids wanted to finish up the class by making soft circuits, especially a sewn LED bracelet.

And I do mean kids because I specifically asked them – after the sewn flashlight difficulties if they were up to another round of sewing. They said yes. In fact, one fifth grader (who struggled a little with the sewing) said, “Well – I don’t know how to do it and that’s the point of learning, right? To try stuff you aren’t good at?” Oh, you could have melted my growth mindset heart!

A picture of three electronic bracelets.

Our family’s collection of hand-sewn LED bracelets.

After the success of the Chibitronics paper LED project, I knew this sewing design had to be more concrete and guided. A couple of hours (and one failed prototype) later), I had a structured lesson to present to the kids the next day.

Sewn LED Bracelet – Paper Prototype

I started by making a paper prototype. This way they could cut it out and see how their bracelet would fit together. The components would have to be placed a certain way so the bracelet could close and you could still see the LED. I also wanted to make it so that when they snapped it closed, the circuit closed and the LED lit up.

Hand-drawn paper prototype to give the kids a guide.

It was definitely helpful to have a paper guide for the students. So many of them wanted to jump ahead and try and figure it out – and that was okay. It was okay when we had to pull out their conductive thread because the circuit wouldn’t make any sense. Hopefully, those were learning moments for them. Mistakes always force us to look at the structure a little more carefully.

Hot glue guns help to move the project along.

Sewn LED bracelet – Process

My younger son and I had made his LED bracelet the night before class – for two reasons. First, I knew that I would need to help the other students and since he’s seven, he would need a lot of help. Second, I wanted to have a simple, finished product so the students could see how the circuits connected.

After everyone chose their LED and figured out how their battery pack worked, I brought them over – one-by-one-  to the hot gluing station. I glued their battery holder and snaps to the felt. This made it much easier for these elementary students to focus on sewing – without having to worry about pins keeping those components in place.

The hardest part was understanding how the battery would be connected to the LED. Since LEDs have be positioned a certain way (positive to positive), I went around to each student and made sure they would line up their LED correctly. They eventually figured it out and even though this class took an hour and a half – every single bracelet connected correctly. And they were so proud (and relieved?) that it lit up after all of their hard work.

Here’s the PDF Sewn LED bracelet (PDF) handout that I created for my students. If you are teacher, please feel free to use it, but do not reproduce or sell it without gaining permission. Thanks!

 

 

Elementary Electronics – Toy Take Apart

I’ve been facilitating an elementary electronics class with our local homeschool co-op and this week we took apart an electronic toy. The toy take apart was messy, chaotic and hopefully, a lot of fun.

The idea of a toy take apart came from the Tinkering Studio; it was one of the suggested activities in their course that I took two years ago. We’ve taken apart a lot of things at our house, but this was the first time I had the kids draw out their thoughts ahead of time. Since we’ve been studying circuits and playing with batteries and bulbs, I felt they would have a better understanding of how their electronic toy might work.

C, age 7, takes apart an old kid-friendly walkie-talkie.

Making Thinking Visible – Toy Take Apart

I was really hoping for a detailed drawing of how they thought the circuits would be connected to the sensors, however, I didn’t plan for the pure excitement (and impatience) of a group of 8-11 year-olds. They were itching to take their old toys apart. Their hands were filled with screwdrivers and hammers (eek!) and exacto knives (for those with plush toys). Since we are a small group, each kid had his own toy to take apart.

R has been wanting to take this doll apart since we found her at Goodwill last year.

Initially, I was going to do a toy take apart as the first class. I thought it would be a fun activity that would get the kids excited about electronics. The timing didn’t work out and I had to postpone it, but I’m glad I did. The Tinkering Studio had it right – the kids had a better understanding of what they were looking at since they had done some experimenting beforehand.

There were still a lot of things that they didn’t recognize (and I didn’t either), but I think it gave them the same sense of power that I get every time I discover the mystery behind a product:  this isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks and there’s no reason to be frightened of it.

Lessons Learned – Toy Take Apart

Since we are a homeschool co-op, most of the parents are around, if needed. For the younger kids, they definitely needed a parent. I was busy helping another child when my youngest son, age 7, cut himself with a screwdriver. He was trying to pry open a piece of plastic and had watched some older kids use a screwdriver with much success. Sadly, the piece he was trying to crack open was still screwed shut. He didn’t look around to see if there was anything he could undo first. He ended up being fine – it just sliced the surface of his hand – but it gave me something to think about. I think it would have been helpful to pair the kids up – an older kid with a younger one, and add a parent to watch over the group.

That would be tough to do in a large classroom – unless you had parent volunteers. You could probably get around that problem if everyone had the same thing to take apart, such as a simple push flashlight. That’s how I solved the problem in my Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids class, but I was hoping for a little more creative license for this one. Oh well – lessons learned. Safety first.

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I’ve missed blogging. It’s been a busy August and I’ve been occupied with other pursuits, but I am ready to get back to writing. (We’ll see if my schedule agrees with me). In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to my new Udemy class, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.

Udemy Course: Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I created this course hoping that other teachers (and parents) will find a single starting point with regards to children’s “maker education.” So much of being a maker is a willingness to tinker, to explore and to learn on your own.  However, there’s a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming.

In this course, I focus on three main areas: simple electronics, sewing and coding using MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch. Each section starts with a “take-apart” lesson, followed by some hands-on activities, and includes a follow up for teachers to integrate these lessons into the curriculum. There’s even a link to some of the research being done on maker education.

Simple Electronics

A year ago, I took a course from the Tinkering Studio. It satisfied the “missing link” of my maker education. I’ve been teaching computer programming concepts to elementary and middle school students for a few years, but was a little nervous about dismantling and building with electronics. Thankfully, after a year of tinkering – and acquiring a soldering iron – I now feel more comfortable introducing simple electronics to kids.*

At summer camp, my students used the circuit blocks to learn about electricity (and short circuited batteries by accident). They made marker bots and messed around with design principles. “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” adds to these projects by introducing a take-apart lesson which is then re-purposed into a sewn LED flashlight. I’ve also included an experiment for conductors and insulators, videos on how to make a simple flashlight, and my favorite way to make circuit art.

IMG_2293

Sewing with Kids

I’ve been sewing for many years; it was one of the first things I had to learn completely on my own. I had to design my own curriculum, find mentors, make mistakes and practice deliberately.  This was my first (unknown) foray into the “maker movement.” These days – with kids, work and homemade dinners – I don’t sew nearly as much as I did fifteen years ago.

Instead, I’ve been sewing with my own children. In a Montessori primary curriculum, we introduce sewing at age three. These activities are broken down into steps (stringing, making a knot, sewing with burlap, etc). As my children grow, we continue to sew, but the projects are more advanced. This past summer, I also taught sewing at our local “college for kids” camp.

I think sewing is a key component of maker education and I’m excited that it’s part of the course, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.” Hand-sewing topics include: taking apart a t-shirt, making a wristband, making a LED flashlight and incorporating sewing into a classroom.

sewing with kids - learning stitches

With an ink pen, I draw out dashes and dots to teach two simple stitches.

Code to Learn with Scratch

Although I’ve been sewing for a number of years, I came to computer programming and robotics through my oldest son. At the age of six, he said he wanted to be a robot engineer. I set out to find hands-on materials that broke down advanced concepts. I stumbled on Lego Education kits and the icon-based programming language, Scratch. I started a business for others kids who were interested in robotics. For the past three years, I have been teaching classes and hosting summer camps.

Along the way, I noticed that many kids came to Scratch because they loved video games. They wanted to make their own – so we did. But we also created stories, conversations and short animations. While creating these programs, the students were learning programming concepts – without even trying.

In my Udemy course, I demonstrate how to use Scratch, but I focus on simple, creative projects that you can do with your students. For upper elementary and middle school students, the sky is the limit. They can create all sorts of games, animations and stories that can reflect their learning. They can use Scratch as a paintbrush to demonstrate their knowledge. Learning can be creative and fun.

I had a lot of fun creating the course and I learned a lot. About everything. Especially movie editing and breaking down concepts. If you are interested in taking the course – “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” – use this link for 50% off.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

*With regards to electronics – I still have a lot to learn. My soldering is ugly and I need more practice. As my oldest child takes more of an interest in electronics, we’ll learn this stuff together, but in the meantime, we’re happy to stay at the level of batteries and bulbs.

 

 

 

Marker Bots 2016

Today the kids made their own marker bots. They started with a single cell AA-battery, a broccoli band and a 3V motor. Once they figured out how to get the motor running, they grabbed a “marker bot body” and began to create. To see a more in-depth explanation, check out my previous “how-to” post on these cute scribbling machines. Otherwise, check out their drawing machines:

Research on the ‘Maker Movement’

The ‘Maker Movement‘ is slowly worming its way into the mainstream. Maker Faires are being held throughout the country and Etsy is thriving.  Not only do we have a National Week of Making (June 17 -23), but a number of colleges and universities are conducting research on the maker movement. Harvard’s ‘Project Zero’ has been collecting data for the last couple of years. While their conclusions are still underway, they recently published a white paper on their preliminary findings.

The kids (ages 9 and 6) as they dismantle an old fan.

The kids (ages 9 and 6) as they dismantle an old fan.

Oddly enough, this paper confirmed everything about how, and why, I love to bring the maker movement to kids.

After analyzing popular press articles and books from the last five years; Harvard researchers proceeded to interview maker-educators. In their white paper, they mention that most of the press articles spoke of the maker movement in terms of business. For example, ideas were put forth that the maker movement will increase our ability to remain an economic superpower because our children will be academically advanced in STEM areas.

Not surprisingly, that isn’t why I like bringing the maker movement to kids. And, it’s not why I became a maker myself all those years ago.

Thankfully, it seems the research is proving my point. Most of us maker-educators are not in it to increase a child’s knowledge of STEM subjects. We like the maker aspect because it helps a child to recognize that they can do anything because most items are made up of parts and once you deconstruct those parts…they can become something else.

That is not to say that students don’t develop technical skills along the way. But, for the
educators we spoke with, technical skills and expertise are by-products in the service of the
larger outcome of self-development. To focus on STEM skills and the like as the primary
outcome of maker education would be to sadly miss the point—like saying that learning to cut your food with a knife and fork is the most important outcome of eating a nutritious meal. In contrast, what we have been hearing from maker practitioners on the ground is the power of maker-centered learning to help students develop a sense of personal agency, a sense of self-efficacy,and a sense of community.  – White Paper on MakerEd from Project Zero

It’s nice to finally have a voice for the thoughts in my head. It’s not about creating the next tech-maven, it’s about empowering students so they can figure it out on their own.

A picture of homemade cardboard circuit cards to teach about direct current

More Research on the Maker Movement

This article, from the Journal of Pre-Engineering Education Research, describes three elements that comprise a ‘maker’ education: low-cost and available (tech) tools, a community of teachers and business people who are utilizing them, and the ‘maker mindset’ which requires an acceptance of researching, prototyping and iterating their creations.

One of the first citations in his paper is from Dr. Montessori.  The author notes that playful discovery through hands-on materials has often been effectively used to teach children new concept and ideas, specifically through the Montessori Method. Is it any wonder why I feel such a strong connection to the maker movement?

In addition to the previous two articles, I have recently discovered the work of Dr. Kylie Peppler, who has shown some links between using wearable electronics and an increase in girls’ scientific interest. As a female who found math easy (but boring) in high school, I was thrilled that I never had to take it again (thank you AP Calculus). Therefore, I am fascinated by the idea that perhaps science and math are taught in a way that discourages girls – not because we feel dumb – but rather because we find it uninteresting.  What if upper-level science and math combined art and hands-on creating – would that bring more girls into STEM-related fields?

Recent findings indicate that introducing such novel, cross-disciplinary technologies can broaden participation, particularly by women. This STEAM (STEM + arts)-powered approach also improves learning outcomes and thus has ramifications that extend beyond the issue of gender in computing.         – IEEE Computer, September 2013

Positive Impact of the Maker Movement

It’s my hope that more research shows what a positive impact a maker-based education can have on our students. And in my most vivid, idealistic dreams I see a lovely vision for the future of public schooling. We start with a Montessori environment, free of standardized tests and homework for PK-6th grade. Those years are followed by a maker-based, project-focused education for grades 7 – 10. The culmination of a student’s twelve years of education would include apprenticeships and gap-year experiences, allowing for some discovery before they go off to college. At which point they should be more than equipped to choose a major and potential career.

A pipe dream, perhaps? But, it’s looking closer than it did five years ago…

picture of Montessori landforms

In a Montessori curriculum, students use modeling clay and water to recreate land forms.