8 Elements of a Good Maker Project
By Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager
- Purpose and Relevance. Is the project personally meaningful? Does the project prompt intrigue in the learner enough to have him or her invest time, effort, and creativity in the development of the project?
- Time. Sufficient time must be provided for learners to plan, execute, debug, alter, expand, and edit their projects. Class time affords students equal access to expertise and materials; projects may also need sufficient out-of-school time.
- Complexity. The best projects combine multiple subject areas and call upon the prior knowledge and expertise of each student. Best of all, serendipitous insights and connections to big ideas lead to the greatest payoff for learners.
- Intensity. Children have a remarkable capacity for intensity that is rarely tapped by the sliced-and-diced curriculum. Projects provide an outlet for the exercise of that intensity. Think about how long kids can spend mastering a video game, reading a favorite book series, memorizing the attributes of Pokémon, or building a treehouse, and you have a good template for successful, project-based learning.
- Connection. In great projects, students are connected to each other, experts, multiple subject areas, powerful ideas, and the world via the Internet. The lessons learned during interpersonal connections that are required by collaborative projects last a lifetime. While there is some merit in organizing student groups to “teach” collaboration, a teacher can hope to create a more natural environment in which students collaborate (or do not) based on their own needs. Collaboration may consist of observing a peer, asking a quick question, or by working with the same teammates for the duration of a project.
- Access. Students need anytime-anywhere access to a wide variety of concrete and digital materials. Personal student laptops make this possible, but we also need to think about the quality and quantity of craft materials, books, tools, hardware, software, and Internet access that allows learners to follow paths we may never have anticipated. When non-consumable materials are used, such as LEGO bricks, a sufficient quantity is necessary to ensure that students have everything they need for their projects and can leave the finished products together long enough for others to learn from them. The last thing you want is one student cannibalizing a classmate’s work during project creation.
- Shareability. This is the big idea of project-based learning! Students need to make something that is shareable with others. This provides a great deal of motivation, relevance, perspective-making, reciprocal learning, and an authentic audience for the project. “A project is something you want to share” is a sufficient definition for learners of all ages.
- Novelty. Few project ideas are so profound that every child needs to engage in its development in every class, or year after year. Yes, that means that it may be time to rethink the annual marshmallow adobe project. If one student makes a fantastic discovery during a project, others can learn from it without slavishly repeating the steps of the pioneering student. In a healthy community of practice, learning continues and knowledge is shared naturally without coerced repetition.