Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Think, Make, Innovate - Exploring Makerspaces

Grant Wood AEA is hosting a course devoted to exploring the makerspace movement.  Here at Prairie Creek Intermediate we're putting the pieces together to officially open our Creek Maker Lab in fall 2016.  As the Teacher Librarian I need some new learning to lead this effort.

Some burning questions/needs going into this course:

  • Managing 3d Printing:   Our first foray into 3d printing has been the Moat Boat Paddle Battle. 6th graders have worked in teams to design their boats.  I've struggled to manage/guide the workflow. 
  • Connecting to the Curriculum particularly new science kits/standards: With the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards and revised inquiry kits from GWAEA I want to find ways to connect the Maker approach to this content area. 
  • Tracking and Guiding Learning:  One criticism/question I hear from observers of the Maker movement is concern about "real learning".  I think behind this question is a need to show learning. 
Our GWAEA instructors quickly addressed these big concerns in our first class.  They talked about the many paths to learning (an idea I believe in deeply) and the role of questioning to guide this journey. 

slides from @abridgesmith and @jmarsh77

We were presented with a continuum of approaches for the makerspace and materials.  The remainder of our first class was spent in the open ended side.  Three stations were prepared for us with Little Bit kits, Makey Makey, and Make Do & cardboard. Our instructions: explore the station, document your learning, share insights then rotate.  

With my fearless learning partner, Alyssa Calhoun @alyssamcalhoun, we began at the Little Bits light station. 

It didn't take long for us to see how the colors indicated a function and that the right sequence of colors could produce something (e.g. flashing lights).  We added other sensors and triggers to activate motors and fans. Then we were on to the second station - Make Do Cardboard construction. The second station is where we began to see the cumulative potential of makerspaces. We had to pick up where the previous group left off.  I failed to get a picture of where we began (oops). Ultimately we decided to make a large clock. Our advice - know the varied skill sets of your group.  I have no business cutting with the Safe Saw tool!

The last station was the Makey Makey. The two groups before us had setup a highly functional control station. This left time for us to explore a wide variety of interactive sites that work with the Makey Makey.  I tried my skills at the Makey Makey Billy Jean (yes, it is the Michael Jackson song).  I don't want to brag but I might have a future in music mixing. 

Big takeaways from Day One:

Communal learning is a powerful approach when we ensure people are talking, sharing, and documenting the process.  A spirit of learning that supports a variety of skill and knowledge levels is important.

Exploratory activity can lead to questions and observations about content.  Several participants commented that they did not know (or remember) much about electricity before using the Little Bits. As we explored and more knowledgeable members shared out the electrical novices made connections. This is an example of making active learning a precursor to direct instruction.  Hands on experiences can spark questions and observations to hook students into content.

Thinking is at the heart of the maker movement.  

Connecting to the Curriculum is easily within reach.   One idea that our instructors offered to this approach were project cards to provide discrete maker experiences.  This is an easy way to extend learning in the sciences. I am already thinking about making cards connected to the Building and Structures unit in science. Here is a very rough sketch.