Thursday, September 15, 2016

Confessions of a maker - Maker Studio class year 1

We are in our fourth week of school and it already feels like it should be the last week. September is hard. It's especially difficult when you are starting something new.

After starting the beginnings of a maker program last year with a maker faire night and monthly maker parties, five teachers (including myself) took on the task of teaching a course on maker.

Last spring, we got the approval of our curriculum committee to offer a Maker Studio course, aimed at students in 9-12 grades. In proposing this class, we gathered ideas from universities like MIT, UT, and Indiana to develop a sound proposal. For our course, we wanted the students to use the design process so, we have taken our course design through the design thinking process as well.

Our design proposal: Maker Studio offers the opportunity to develop skills in ideation, design, creativity, prototyping, and collaboration.  These skills allow students to fully participate in shaping the world around them through deeper understanding of the possibilities and problems of new physical and information technologies.  This course focuses on key design elements of the Maker movement, along with how Making supports science learning by providing opportunities to deepen engagement, intentionality, innovation, collaboration, and understanding.

Maker skills provide a powerful way to inspire students' interest, engagement, and   understanding in science.  The course is taught through cross-disciplinary hands-on projects where students will use a variety of maker tools including, but not limited to, 3D printing, Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, and Makey Makeys.  There will be a different instructor for each rotation, allowing the class to be taught by a panel of experts, where each instructor teaches a discrete unit.  Students will reflect on each project, writing a concise summary of what they did, including their design process, issues encountered, and future applications of the skill.  A digital portfolio will be kept throughout the class, and there will be periodic presentations of their projects.  The course will culminate with an individual project that incorporates several of the skills learned throughout the course.

Currently, I am the section teacher of this course so my thoughts will change as a I become a spectator teacher of the course.

Empathize: “To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.” After we took the course for approval to the curriculum committee, we spent time deciding our desired audience. At the time, we knew data suggested more middle school students attended the maker events than upper school students. However, due to scheduling restraints at the middle school, we decided to bring the course to the high school. With that, we attempted to narrow down grade levels - 9, 10, 11, 12 or all. We decided to open it to all as to not exclude anyone in year one. However, after four weeks, we have observed the social dynamics play a critical part in students staying in the course. Due to the wide spectrum of grade levels and "friend groups" in the course, some withdrew after the first day due to more of a social reason.

Defining the course: After getting approval for the course and selecting our target audience, we worked on a course design. We decided upon several main factors that would be consistent in the course. This is an area we have had to come back to many times. We got approval for the course in February. However, that left us the spring and summer and figure out the course. In a standard course, this time would not be as essential. However, in this course, it proved most important. We tried to work remotely over the summer, but in the end, we found schedules conflicted and time ran out. As a result, our definition of the course was rather weak. That affected us dramatically in the first week. We set out offer five distinct sections in the course - each taught by a different teacher. And, we decided that journals, portfolios, and projects would be our three grading elements. However, the specifics of those elements were not defined as well. As a result, we have had to spend a lot of time redefining journals, portfolios, and project design.

Ideate: “It’s not about coming up with the ‘right’ idea, it’s about generating the broadest range of possibilities.” For the purpose of course design, we are generating a broad range of possibilities as we go through the course. During the early summer, I found an alumnus who worked in renewable energy - our first topic - and after several discussions, she agreed to come talk to our students. This fueled further ideas of section field trips or speakers. The course is divided into five sections so each has its own set of ideas. Since I am teaching first, I am generating more ideas for future section teachers.

Prototype: “Build to think and test to learn.” Our prototype and testing are more or less the same. Since, we never had an audience to test on. This year will serve as our prototyping year. Next year, will be further testing. For now, I've included our thoughts in the testing section.

Testing: “Testing is an opportunity to learn about your solution and your user.” 

We are currently in this stage. This has been the most arduous and grueling in many ways. The design was nothing compared to the revisions that we have made along the way.

Our school has a very unique schedule so this course is running as a 1/2 credit, Pass/Fail course currently. With that, we meet 3 days of every rotation (rotation is 8 days). 2 days are 45 minutes each and 1 day  is 60 minutes.

Day 1 - all five section teachers met to introduce ourselves and the course. With a 45 minute class period, this did not leave much time for anything else. At the end of day 1, 5 of our 12 total students dropped the course. They were all freshmen and I attribute it to social reasons.

Day 2 - I began my section. Originally, we decided my section would go second. However, due to summer scheduling changes, the teacher set to go first, was no longer able to, so I went. Unfortunately, my section was not designed to be the hook. Day 2 began with an introduction into sustainability as my section is about creating a sustainable solution with recyclable and renewable resources. It was evident the class was not wanting to discuss.

Day 3 - We continued discussion of the recycling process in order to empathize. It was evident the class did not read and did not want to discuss. Students were threatening to leave.

Back to the drawing board.

Day 4 - We spent the class allowing students to give voice about the class - what do they want. After this class, we deferred to the students.

Days 5 & 6 - We allowed the students to create without giving background on sustainability (due to students saying they preferred to read on their own). Instead, students went right into building. I do not support this model, but found it was necessary to get back momentum.

Day 7 - We regained the course. As teachers, we met again to reiterate our common goals for the course - journaling, design thinking, and portfolios. After this, we got our footing back and students were thrust into prototyping.

Since beginning the course, we have set up weekly meetings among the section teachers in order to adapt the course as we go. This is crucial. I have also found that a balance between teacher voice and student voice is necessary. No voice should outweigh the other.

After day 9, we will begin the last project in my section - creating renewable resources. With the course now moving in a forward motion, I hope to reiterate the design thinking process.


Curious about our Maker Studio journey? Don't worry! I'll be continuing this series with updates on the process.

Below, you can find resources to get you started on your way. The most important thing about maker education is learning from and adapting from your mistakes. In this case, it is also, learning from others' mistakes.

Course Website
Rubrics, Resources & more for sustainability
Journaling requirement
Journaling template
Sample portfolio - Bulb
Portfolio guidelines and grading
Grading guidelines

Check out the Maker Journey presentation for my maker process from start to now. Also, check out for all things STEAM.


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