The maker movement has been a hot topic for the past year or so but a lot of times, the focus is how to create makerspaces or completely revamp your curriculum to integrate these new approaches. School change is often something that needs to move slowly and in incremental steps. If changing your entire school seems overwhelming, try starting a bit smaller and try starting with your youngest students. If we truly want to help students grow up with a maker mindset and sustain the innate curiosity and wonder that they have for discovery, learning, and creating, then I think we need to start supporting making in early childhood.
In order to find out first-hand how students as young as kindergarten can engage with making and STEAM projects, I have been running a DIY Makers Club for a small group of K-2nd grade students after school each week. One of my hopes is that by exploring and piloting different projects and tools in this space, I can better understand and learn how to integrate them into our existing curricula so that making becomes less and less of an after school “extra” and more of a natural part of our school community.
My goals in creating the club were to “empower students to become confident creators and tinkerers who can design and collaborate on projects” and to “explore everything from building with cardboard to making a working circuit” through student-driven and developmentally appropriate projects. I planned to use science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) as core areas in which to ground our work and I searched for materials and tools designed to engage very young students in exploring those areas.
Our work with science has involved looking at how a circuit works and creating successful connections with Little Bits, to learning about air resistance and gravity (which connects to the second grade curriculum), and soon, we will be learning about and building simple machines. I have been lucky enough to collaborate frequently with our science teacher, who can provide background information about what the students have already learned in her class and ideas for how to design new projects that will help them grow. She is also a great resource when I’m trying to explain science concepts to the students and I want to make sure they’re accessible and accurate.
Within the technology track, our projects have mainly focused on different forms of computational reasoning, which I’ve introduced through the Kodable app and the Robot Turtles board game. Since all of the students received an introduction to computer programming in their classrooms during the Hour of Code, I used Maker Club as an opportunity to build upon that foundation and push them to dive a little deeper and also to try some higher level coding with the Hopscotch app. Of course, many of our STEAM projects involve some technology component but tech is more often the tool than the learning goal for one of our projects. For example, while exploring how to design a strong building in Build with Chrome, students had to get on a computer and access the Internet and for our simple machines projects, the group was first exposed to each type of machine through a set of online educational games from the Chicago Museum of Science.
Empower students to become confident creators and tinkerers who can design and collaborate on projects.
I have discovered that Engineering is one of the easiest areas to expose students to at this age because there are a lot of great resources available to support students’ explorations and thinking. I have talked with the students in my club repeatedly about the engineering design process and the model of Think: Make: Improve (from a wonderful maker resource, Invent to Learn). Having that framework for our project work has really helped students understand the benefits of planning and prototyping and then revisiting a project to improve it after soliciting feedback from their peers. These are skills that are becoming essential in today’s workforce and so valuable as students begin trying to create with technology and design for the future.
We read Rosie Revere Engineer as a way to dig into deeper discussions about who can be an engineer and what type of work they do. We used one of the activities connected to the book (creating helicopters) as a doorway to air resistance and a new science lesson and the students are new working with Goldieblox and Roominate to tie together their work with electronics and simple machines to design new structures and inventions that integrate their new knowledge.
Art has been another thread that has been easy to integrate into our club projects because so many prototypes require initial sketches and final products need some designs and decoration to feel complete. In conjunction with DIY.org, the students worked collaboratively to design a logo and a flag for our club, which helped them complete challenges to earn their Club Member patch on the website. The students did a great job thinking about how to represent their maker work and the uniqueness of the club visually and recently, they even tried designing their own DIY.org skill patches as part of contest on the site. I always have a range of materials (e.g., markers, crayons, paint, and adhesives) available so the students can integrate art into their projects whenever they see the need to or feel inspired to add some color to our cardboard.
Math has been a bit more challenging to focus on as a distinct entity in the club, probably in part because I’m not aware of as many resources that have been created for the K-2nd group that support making while highlighting math learning. Many of our projects have incorporated math, for example to create their projects in Build with Chrome, students had to count how many bricks they would need or might be missing to complete a building. There’s also a lot of mathematical thinking integrated in the work we’ve done with computer programming and I’m excited to try and fit in some time with Turtle Art before the year ends so the students can explore angles and numbers through coding and design.
Reflecting on Maker Club Work
Each week I blog about what we did during DIY Maker Club to help keep the parents and other teachers at my school informed of our making explorations and also help me reflect on our work. From the beginning of the year, I made it a priority to document students work and learning during the club so that I could help them share and review their own work (Think: Make: Improve) and to provide me with concrete materials that I could sit down and look at to determine whether that activity could be adapted for the classroom and how to make it even better the next time.
I think this model, of starting with an after-school club and moving towards an integrated model of making, is one that other educators could easily take up and try at their own schools. It provides time and space to learn new tools and approaches to teaching while also working with students who can push you to see activities and ideas differently. When possible, if you can find collaborators in other disciplines, then the club becomes a space for not only student co-creation and collaboration but also shared teacher learning and interdisciplinary projects. As you try different activities, you can think about how they might work as lessons in your classroom or other classrooms and then share those ideas (or blog posts) with your colleagues.
If you’re interested in starting a Maker Club for your students, there are some great resources available to help you dive deeper in the maker movement and build a network of maker colleagues who can support you in that work. You can join the weekly #makered chat on Twitter, every Tuesday evening at 9pm EST or simply follow the hashtag throughout the week. Check out books like Invent to Learn and Design, Make, Play and all of the books in the Make library that provide instructions and ideas for new projects and tools. There are also some great professional development opportunities this summer, like Constructing Modern Knowledge and Design, Do, Discover. The annual ISTE meeting in Atlanta looks like it will also have a Maker playground and a number of sessions focused on making in education.