The maker movement is gaining steam in classrooms across the country. Why? Maker projects are massive cross-curricular opportunities that allow kids to explore the curriculum using their hands instead of staring at a whiteboard — and that’s something that keeps event the wiggliest of students engaged.
The beauty of maker projects is that they can take on many different forms, from crafting with scissors and paper to engineering with robotics. But all good maker projects still need direction. Ensure your maker lesson plans have these eight elements.
1. Purpose and relevance
Is the project personally meaningful? Does it prompt intrigue in the learner enough to have him or her invest time, effort, and creativity in its development?
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.
The best projects combine multiple subject areas and call upon the prior knowledge and expertise of each student. Best of all, learners get the greatest payoff from serendipitous insights and connections to big ideas.
Children have a remarkable capacity for intensity that is rarely tapped by the sliced-and-diced curriculum. Projects provide an outlet for 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. Then you have a good template for successful, project-based learning.
In great maker projects, students are connected to each other, experts, multiple subject areas, powerful ideas, and the world via the internet. The lessons learned during collaborative, interpersonal connections 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.
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 for students to build and 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.
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.
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 repeating the steps of the pioneering student. In a healthy community of practice, learning continues and knowledge is shared naturally without coerced repetition.
By Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager